The Corner

Obama the Budget Cutter

In this election year, with Democrats facing the certain prospect of major losses and the uncertain but scary prospect of losing control of Congress, you can expect to see lots of stories like this one from Business Week:

The White House is trying to show federal bureaucrats that President Barack Obama is serious about his promise to freeze most domestic agency budgets.

Budget chief Peter Orszag said Tuesday that he is directing agencies to target less-effective programs for cuts as the administration puts together a budget plan for the fiscal year starting September 2011…

Orszag said that if the White House sent the Democratic-controlled Congress a package of immediate spending cuts it would probably “go nowhere.” Instead, the White House is fighting for new powers to allow Obama and his successors to force lawmakers to vote on cutting earmarks and wasteful programs from spending bills.

“It just comes down to a question of whether it’s a fruitless exercise because we have very low probability of success in the current environment,” Orszag said.

Orszag’s speech was at the Center for American Progress, which provided a fitting backdrop. It was designed to portray the president as challenging a wasteful Democratic Congress and liberal interest groups on government spending. There are at least two objectives: distance Obama from unpopular congressional leaders and create a space within Democratic politics for candidates to portray themselves as budget hawks. The Obama team is under no illusions that the president can save the Democratic majority simply by closing ranks with Pelosi and Reid. Instead, they want Democrats in key House and Senate races to be able to express support for parts of Obama’s agenda while running away from the incumbent leaders on Capitol Hill.

Oh, should I have included a third goal: saving taxpayers’ money? Nah.

John Hood — John Hood is president of the John William Pope Foundation, a Raleigh-based grantmaker that supports public policy organizations, educational institutions, arts and cultural programs, and humanitarian relief in North Carolina ...

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