The Corner

Obama Plans Need “Recalibration”

Barack Obama has promised far more government spending on the campaign trail than he’ll ever be able to deliver as president. So says a prominent fiscal analyst at a Washington think tank, who observes of Obama’s budget plan that “I don’t think it all adds up” and that “there will definitely need to be a recalibration” after the November election.

The analyst is Isabel Sawhill of the left-leaning Brookings Institution. She was a budget official in the Clinton administration. Former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta, who was also a key player in U.S. House budget battles in the 1980s and early 1990s, makes pretty much the same point:

“I accept that all candidates throw out a lot of proposals when they’re campaigning,” Panetta said. “You have to assume that’s all part of a campaign strategy to appeal to a lot of different constituencies that are out there. But once he enters the Oval Office, he’s going to have to make some hard decisions.”

Obama’s staff believes that ending the Iraq war would free up money — at least $90 billion a year — that could be redirected to the new government programs. But it is unclear when that would occur. Obama himself has not given a clear date by which the Iraq war might end. On Thursday, he said he remained committed to withdrawing combat troops in 16 months. At a debate in September 2007, he would not commit to pulling all U.S. troops out from Iraq by 2013.

Some budget experts say even a speedy end to the war would not give Obama much money to redirect to new programs.

“You cannot justify a longer-term commitment to a program based on a one-time saving on the war in Iraq,” said Stuart Butler, who studies domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.

In addition, replenishing the military and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan are certain to become expensive priorities once the fighting stops, said Alice M. Rivlin, who directed the Office of Management and Budget for several years under Clinton.

“Savings from the Iraq war will not be all that great,” she said.

Perhaps there is some vindictive conspiracy led by Hillary Clinton fans (and abetted by British-born conservatives) to undermine Obama’s audacious hopes for fiscal and social transformation. Or, maybe, the candidate’s numbers are just phony.

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