The Big Chill: Obama's Spending Freeze

Pundits skeptical of Obama's spending freeze

President Obama's new plan to freeze spending on a range of federal programs has received a chilly reception from progressives and drawn skepticism from conservatives – all before the president has even laid out his case.

Ahead of Obama’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday, administration officials said the president would ask Congress to hold the line on spending for many “non-security” programs for three years, starting in 2011. Obama will also propose other measures to give tax relief to the middle-class, but it’s the spending freeze that is already getting the lion’s share of attention across the blogosphere. Here’s how pundits are describing Obama’s big chill:

  • “A spending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around,” laments Robert Reich for Salon. “Consumers have pulled back, investors won’t do much until they know consumers are out there, and exports are minuscule.” When Bill Clinton took an axe to the federal budget in 1996 the economy was already coming out recession, Reich notes. These days “there’s no sign on the horizon of a vigorous recovery.”
  • The freeze is a “bright shining gimmick” because it won’t take on major portions of the budget like defense spending, argues The Economist on its Free Exchange blog. “This will do very little about the deficit,” the mag’s scribe concludes, “and it will do even less to convince markets of the credibility of the American effort to trim the deficit.”
  • Not so, writes Jonathan Chait for The New Republic. The freeze sends a “psychological” signal to Wall Street that the government is credible when talking about taking on the deficit. The plan could then provide cover for Congress and the President to enact a $100 billion to $200 billion jobs bill next year, he writes.
  • Polling whiz Nate Silver blogs on FiveThirtyEight that the freeze could “play well in the near-term” but it might ultimately make Democrats who also push for health care reform or new spending programs look “flip-floppy.”
  • Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes for HotAir that Obama’s freeze is a “cynical move” to win back sagging support from independents. “But even a cosmetic gesture deserves a golf clap, no?”  he writes.
  • Over at The Atlantic, blogger Marc Ambinder is also skeptical of the freeze but doesn’t totally rule out it could be a winner. “The big if -- IF the president really fights for this...fights against his own party, and does so with conviction -- if Democrats decide to embrace this (which is doubtful), then it could help both his party and himself,” he writes.
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