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‘Spending Freeze’? At Least Someone Recognizes There’s a Problem

But we need a budget proposal that tackles the broken entitlement programs. This is hardly a baby step.

by
Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Bio

January 28, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Now, I confess that I do find a lot of this somewhat amusing. After all, the president has already signed off on two rounds of spending bills that raised discretionary spending by 20 percent over spending in fiscal 2008. This initiative has the feel of planning to diet one day a year — but I guess that beats zero. It’s also notable that it reflects (another) flip-flop from his campaign, where he described freezes as “using a hatchet where you need a scalpel.” To be honest, more powerful weaponry may be needed when faced with the Pelosi-Reid axis, but at least he picked up the hatchet. And, of course, the ultimate bemusement is that this is precisely what George W. Bush did when his deficits got out of control. So much for change.

In the end, the most important aspect about the Obama freeze is that it is one of a much larger set of initiatives that address how Congress formulates its budgets. Obama wants a freeze. A bipartisan coalition wants a commission. There are proposals for spending caps, pay-as-you-go rules, and constitutional amendments to constrain the size of spending. This is real evidence that (a) there is a problem, (b) Washington gets that there is a problem, and (c) the larger body politic has no idea what to do about the problem. The first step in these circumstances is to change the process by which budgets are put together. The second step — often not taken, clearly more difficult — is to change the budgets that are put together.

Step two is the key. All citizens should await the arrival of step two. It is the key to eliminating the possibility of a U.S. debt crisis. It is the path to preserving economic prosperity. It is at the heart of retaining the autonomy to choose the future of our dreams, not those of our international bankers.

Which brings us back to the Obama freeze. It is not a budget proposal that tackles the broken entitlement programs. It is not a fundamental rethinking of the role of government in a free enterprise system.

And it is not the solution for a threat to our future.

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Douglas Holtz-Eakin was the director of the Congressional Budget Office (2003–05). He also was chief economist in the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush (2001–02) and senior staff economist in President George H. W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers (1989–90). He is currently the president of the American Action Forum.
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