Obama’s Spending Freeze Has Liberals, Economists Doing Spit-Takes

Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Hey, who's excited about President Obama's spending freeze!?! Anyone? No? You, over there? Guy in the turtleneck? Oh, sorry, thought I saw a hand up back there.

Indeed, while Republicans have, not surprisingly, mocked the plan (because he's already spent so much, and he used to oppose freezes, and he's not freezing as much as he should, etc., etc.), liberals have been just as unimpressed. In fact, you could say they're infuriated. Well, at least the ones who believe this freeze is going to actually become policy. It still has to go through Congress, after all. And a large chunk of the budget will be left untouched. But even among those who believe there probably won't be any beef in this freezeburger of political posturing, they still can't believe that the president they supported is actually legitimizing, even if only for show, the economic ideology of the right.

• Paul Krugman calls the move "appalling on every level." Let us count the ways: It's "bad economics," it's "bad long-run fiscal policy," and it's "a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for." Maybe it'll be tied "to something that would actually help the economy, like an employment tax credit," but it currently looks like "pure disaster." [Conscience of a Liberal/NYT]

• Brad Delong says the plan "does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way." [Brad Delong]

• Mark Thoma thinks it's a "cheap political trick" that's "likely to backfire. How will this look, for example, if there's a double dip recession, or if unemployment follows the dismal path that the administration itself has forecast?" [Economist's View]

• Robert Reich says that Obama is moving the opposite direction that he should be, and that his freeze would "make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around." [Salon]

• Glenn Greenwald wonders why our bloated military budget is so sanctified. [Salon]

• John B. Judis thinks Obama, as well as Larry Summer and Christina Romer, who are all professors, have "failed utterly to explain to Americans (let alone the bond traders) how deficits function in recessions." [New Republic]

• Steve Benen, considering an administration official saying that "the cuts would target 'duplicative,' 'ineffective,' and 'inefficient' spending," is "tempted to call the freeze idea symbolic, at best." But it's still "disappointing" because "it fully embraces the conservative narrative, instead of using the power of the bully pulpit to explain why conservatives have it wrong." [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Tim Fernholz, likewise, is less concerned with the policy and more with the "incredibly pernicious political argument: Obama is accepting the conservative budget framing that progressives fought against during his campaign by focusing deficit reduction on the most underfunded chunk of the budget ... It's exactly what progressive budget experts said not to do." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Rachel Maddow calls the plan "counterintuitive" and "completely, completely insane." [MSNBC]

• Nate Silver is worried that voters will suffer from "cognitive dissonance" when the White House "is promising to freeze spending on the one hand ... and on the other, trying to defend its stimulus and its health care reform package, trying to excuse the bailout package as a necessary evil, and perhaps trying to champion new programs." Though the "freeze" is likely to be "more bark ... than bite," that inconsistency is exactly "what will make the White House (or at least the Democrats collectively) look flip-floppy." [FiveThirtyEight]

• Matthew Yglesias is trying not to "freak out," 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." [Think Progress]

• Kevin Drum wonders, "[H]asn't Obama's pivot happened too quickly to seem like anything other than what it increasingly is: a panicky and transparent attempt to recover from the Massachusetts tsunami? Given that, is anyone going to buy it?" [Mother Jones]

• Christopher Hayes says the "insidious" freeze "uses the full power of the bully pulpit to reaffirm and endorse a kind of ignorance that the right-wing has spent years stoking." [Capitol/Nation]

• Ezra Klein says the "devil here is in the details." For example, Congress could very well change the targets of the freeze from something useless but powerfully backed, like farm subsidies, to something necessary but without a lobby, like programs that help the poor. "The danger of proposing a freeze is that the focus is on the freeze, not the precise mix of policies that leads to it." Doing the freeze in the wrong way "would be a catastrophe." [Ezra Klein/WP]