Why might the spending freeze not be what it seems? (1) Baseline. (2) Logroll.

The Obama spending freeze sure looks idiotic at first glance. At second glance, let’s consider two words. (1) Baseline. (2) Logroll.

Jonathan sure looks as if he’s right (here, here, and here) about Obama’s domestic spending freeze proposal.  It seems like economic castor oil and political hemlock.  (Though I have to claim personal privilege against the Dukakis-in-a-tank shot, in which he looked “wimpy” just because he’s no taller than, er, me.)

But here’s  two possible reasons we both might be wrong.  They could be ridiculous.  I’m proposing, not declaring, and hoping for an argument.

First, what’s the baseline?  Nate Silver, in what’s hardly a pro-Obama post, casually says that the baseline will be the 2010 budget, stimulus and all.  The stimulus is not only big–though not big enough–but contains loads of discretionary spending (as any parent of kids in public school should be told again and again).  It’s probably too much aid to states and such to be politically sustainable over three or four years anyway.  A freeze compared to that might still be unnecessary.  But it might not be catastrophic.

Second, Politico, who should know, opines that the freeze will be welcomed by “Blue Dog Democrats and deficit hawks” (and loathed by liberals).  Now then: could it be that Obama hasn’t been so idle in nailing down the final few health care votes as it seems?

Best case: this is a cosmetic freeze that will provide a few terrified centrists enough political cover to move the health care bill over the line.  Worst case: this is one of the most foolish and cowardly political acts of our time.  The line says that there has never been anything false about hope.  I guess we’ll see.

Update: Matt Yglesias was on a conference call where he got more information.  It turns out that the freeze wouldn’t start until 2012, is flexible in complicated ways, and so on.  He doesn’t have the details.  He’s also keeping his powder dry because he suspects “this initiative was deliberately leaked to progressive bloggers in an effort to get denounced by the left and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.”

This is simultaneously reassuring and infuriating.  On the one hand, this may be cosmetic after all.  On the other, the wart that the cosmetics are supposed to cover up may be us.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

3 thoughts on “Why might the spending freeze not be what it seems? (1) Baseline. (2) Logroll.”

  1. Update: Matt Yglesias was on a conference call where he got more information. It turns out that the freeze wouldn’t start until 2012

    Actually, Matt says it starts "with the Fiscal Year 2011 budget."

    The Times confirms this, reporting that the freeze "would take effect in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1" (i.e., F.Y. 2011).

    Not sure where "2012" came from, Andrew. Typo, maybe?

  2. Ah, so it's a lie, like everything else. I rather expected that. I don't think it's going to help him much, because pretty much everybody else expects that, too.

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