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Who needs a debt commission when White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is on the case?
He wants to allow federal agencies to redirect half of any unnecessary, unspent money in their budgets to other initiatives and half to deficit reduction. Currently, agencies must return all money they don’t spend, giving them an incentive to spend it all.
Let’s say Congress goes along: The move would affect all of about $25 billion a year, according to the Wall Street Journal. In May alone, the deficit was $142 billion. In the first eight months of the fiscal year, it was $941 billion. This is like alleviating the deficit with spare change found in between the cushions of couches at the Office of Management and Budget.
“The president’s goal has been to change Washington’s focus from figuring out how to spend money to how to save money,” Emanuel explained to the Journal, a statement that suggests he has taken leave of the reality-based community. Perhaps he has been too busy managing the hectic trade in White House job offers to notice the administration has added $2.4 trillion in debt in 500 days.
This boom in government spending was supposed to produce a boom in the private economy. So far, we’re one boom short. The May jobs report is a perfect distillation of Obamanomics, with its emphasis on short-term help to the economy — the stimulus package, the cash-for-clunkers program, etc. — that is as sustainable as a sugar high.
The headline jobs number of 431,000 looked good, but 411,000 were temporary census jobs. They will soon disappear, unless we want to employ Americans in the counting of one another in perpetuity. The 41,000 new private-sector jobs were about 60,000 short of what it takes just to absorb the natural growth of the labor force.
The driving force in the private economy has been companies’ pulling back on the liquidation of their inventories, a natural effect that would have occurred even absent Pres. Barack Obama’s various stimuli. The reaction of the Democrats to the failure of all the stimulus packages is to support yet more stimulus.
The same people who hailed the first stimulus package as historic now maintain it was too small, and complain it has been offset by state and local budget cuts. H. L. Mencken said Puritans fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. Contemporary Keynesians fear that someone, somewhere may be balancing a budget. In thrall to the New Deal, they can’t give up on public jobs as a panacea. Obama hagiographer Jonathan Alter writes in Newsweek that the president should marshal “an army of the unemployed” to pick up tar balls on the Gulf Coast.
The House recently considered another $200 billion “jobs bill.” No one can explain why if last year’s $862 billion stimulus didn’t work, a significantly smaller stimulus will. In reaction to deficit fears, Democratic leaders broke the bill into two pieces — of roughly $90 billion and $20 billion — and slimmed down the total cost, partly by not extending the spending quite as far into the future.
No wonder Democrats fear adding all the numbers up in an annual budget resolution. “It’s difficult to pass budgets in election years,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer admitted, “because they reflect what the status is.” No budget? Problem solved.
This won’t fool anyone. Robust job growth requires boldness and risk-taking in the private sector. What we have now is boldness and risk-taking in the public sector. It is loading as much debt onto the balance sheet as possible, and creating the predicate for more regulation, spending, and taxes. We have active government and hesitant entrepreneurs.
Late in the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt’s Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, told Congress, “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work.” Democrats have made Morgenthau’s plaint their governing ethic. In so doing, they are demonstrating their political and intellectual bankruptcy even faster than they are bankrupting the country.
– Rich Lowry is editor of National Review. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate.