Perhaps the worst thing Republicans could do, if President Obama announces a budget freeze for non-defense discretionary spending and a prohibition on earmarks tonight, is dismiss the policy initiative as a gimmick.
It’s true that a budget freeze (or an earmark ban) would not fundamentally realign government spending, or change the trajectory over the long term, but the president is clearly trying to seize the high ground on fiscal responsibility. Moreover, Republicans already lack legitimacy on federal spending, as Mercatus Center economist Vernoique de Rugy pointed out in an article for Reason magazine. Republicans claim 6 of the top 10 annual increases in discretionary federal spending since 1962.
President Obama is clearly throwing down the fiscal gauntlet to Republicans. To maintain the momentum from the November 2010 elections and reclaim legitimacy with the American public, they will have to make good on real spending cuts like those recently outlined by the Republican Study Committee. Otherwise, they will be handing this populist president a silver plate on which to remake his image as a fiscally responsible liberal who is also pro-defense.
— Samuel R. Staley is Robert W. Galvin Fellow and Director of Urban & Land Use Policy at the Reason Foundation.