Call Him Obama, The 10 Trillion-Dollar Man

Independents have their price

Being called out by 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft is the least of President Obama's problems.  Indeed, he has about 10 trillion others. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Obama budget will run a rather scary $1 trillion annual deficit for the next decade.  That's $2.3 trillion more than Obama's people have predicted.  Numbers like that are a bit too rich even for the blood of members of the president's own party:

Many Democrats were already uncomfortable with Obama's budget, which promises to cut the deficit to $533 billion in five years. The CBO says the red ink for that year will total $672 billion.

The worsening economy is responsible for the even deeper fiscal mess inherited by Obama. As an illustration, CBO says that the deficit for the current budget year, which began Oct. 1, will top $1.8 trillion, $93 billion more than foreseen by the White House.

The 2009 deficit, fueled by the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and diving tax revenues stemming from the worsening recession, is four times the previous $459 billion record set just last year.

The CBO's estimate for 2010 is worse as well, with a deficit of almost $1.4 trillion expected under administration policies, about $200 billion more than predicted by Obama.

By the end of the decade, the deficit under Obama's blueprint would go back up to $1.2 trillion. 

Not surprisingly, Republicans jumped at the chance to suggest -- rightly so -- that such numbers are unsustainable.  Sen. Judd Gregg -- the president's one-time Commerce Secretary nominee -- charged that the budget would lead to bankruptcy

Meanwhile, bad as all that is, it's the flak coming out of, uh, left field that should call the president more worry:  The New York Times completely unloaded on various parts of the Obama agenda over the weekend -- the editorial page, plus columnists Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman and Frank Rich.  Another NYT columnist, Paul Krugman just used his personal blog to dump all over Obama's bank clean-up bill. But these voices tend to focus more on the atmospherics around the A.I.G. bailout and bonus fallout.   

But Democrats and Obama won the 2006 and 2008 elections -- including the presidency -- because independent voters completely abandoned the Republican Party.  That very fact should give the White House and the Democratic majority in Congress reason to worry over a recent poll commissioned by National Public Radio and conducted in bipartisan fashion.

For the first time in five years, the generic congressional preference question has Democrats and Republicans tied:

In the new National Public Radio poll conducted by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and its Republican counterpart, Public Opinion Strategies, 42 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed March 10 to 14 said that if the next congressional election were held today they would vote for the Republican candidate; an identical percentage of respondents said they would vote for the Democratic one. For several years, Democrats held a substantial lead on this question.

This could be what is often called an "outlier" poll. If so, it's nothing for the White House and Democrats to worry about.  However, that there would be such numbers so early in the president's term should be a warning sign. Independents -- unlike hard-core ideologues of either party -- tend  to be less concerned by cultural issues and more by bread-and-butter economic ones.

A budget that could rack up $10 trillion over the next decade would be just the sort of red flag that would cause independents to say, "Okay, that's enough! Jane, get me off this crazy thing!"

That doesn't mean they want to abandon the Obama agenda completely. But it does mean that it seems like too much, too soon -- at too expensive a cost in the long-run. Ironically, last week was the six-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Even as that conflict appears to be winding down successfully, for many it went on too long -- at too much of a fiscal price (to say nothing of human life). The American public doesn't seem ready to take a flier on six more years of trillion-dollar deficits. Unless, Obama can figure out how to impose some self-restraint on his plans, he will find himself waking up to a rather harsh mid-course correction in the 2010 election.

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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