The denunciation of President Obama's proposed spending freeze was immediate.
But there's an interesting trend among the near-consensus of
commentators balking at Obama's proposal, which would target only 17%
of the budget. Nearly every pundit slamming the freeze then proposes some other federal spending that should be capped. Liberals who hate Obama's spending freeze want the defense budget frozen. Conservatives who hate
Obama's spending freeze want social entitlement programs
frozen. Everyone, it seems, follows up their demand not to
freeze the budget with a suggestion about where to start.
Pundits quick to condemn generalized spending freezes have been just as quick to turn around and insist on specific spending freezes. If President Obama were really serious about reducing the deficit, the arguments go, this is what he would target. Here's what they're calling to be frozen or at least reduced.
- Military Spending Salon's Glenn Greenwald zeroes in on "America's bloated, excessive, always-increasing military spending." Defense spending, has ballooned to almost as much as the rest of the world combined, makes up half of U.S. discretionary spending. "Yet it's absolutely forbidden to even contemplate reducing it as a means of reducing our debt or deficit." He insists, "it is virtually impossible for the U.S. to make meaningful progress in debt reduction without serious reductions in our military programs." The Economist's Ryan Avent agrees.
- Farm Subsidies Matthew Yglesias explains that the so-called "deficit hawks" in Congress, such as Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, actually love the massive farm subsidies that go mostly to their states. But Yglesias sees farm subsidies as the necessary place to start, even if it ignites an inevitable political battle. If Congress blocks a subsidy freeze, "Then Obama gets to chide them, and say it's not his fault congress is so spendy." The Washington Post's Ezra Klein agrees.
- Combat Aircraft Spencer Ackerman scoffs, "You have to come up with a baroque set of Michael Bey-esque geopolitical calculations by which we would use combat aircraft in any conceivable war." He writes, "The most likely scenario for using combat aircraft in a U.S. war is an alien invasion." Yet we spend about $40 billion a year on their procurement. Ackerman sighs, "But by all means, freeze spending on school lunch programs and Head Start and shit like that."
- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security National Review's James Capretta runs in the opposite direction of health care reform. He decries "doesn't apply to entitlement spending, which is set to bankrupt the federal government in coming years." The most well-known programs are medicare, medicaid, and social security, which Capretta calls the "big three." Without cutting these, Obama will be "doing nothing, or very little, of consequence." Powerline's Paul Mirengoff agrees.
- Afghanistan War The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz seconds those citing farm subsidies and military spending. But he references one military spending aspect in particular. "[I]t's worth noting that 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan will cost $17 billion in 2011, almost exactly what is being cut from the budget by this maneuver."
- Education Also at National Review, Burton Folsom laments of the plan, "That leaves the president, as I understand it, with his massive spending for education, his green-energy initiative, his health-care increases, and his cap-and-trade proposed spending still intact." Of those, all except education are simply proposals, meaning that only education can be, as Folsom puts it, "way too high and need slashing with a large machete."
- All The Stuff Democrats Like Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey of Hot Air is refreshingly honest. "[W]hile a freeze is the first step, the next step must be to roll back those federal-budget increases," he writes. "That will require significant cuts in federal programs that Democrats created or inflated over the last three years while having control of the pursestrings." Commentary's John Steele Gordon is among the many conservatives to make a similar case.