Based on what Bernstein said about the freeze proposal, it appears the destructive policy impact of the plan may not be as great as many, including yours truly, initially feared. Seven-eighths of Federal spending won’t be impacted by the freeze, and within the one-eighth that will be impacted by the freeze, only the total level of spending will be frozen. Individual programs can grow as long as that growth is offset by cuts in other programs. Moreover, the freeze won’t apply to the stimulus plan and if a second stimulus is required, it would be considered outside the freeze.
So the good news is that it doesn’t sound like the proposal will really be a calamitous disaster for the economy. The bad news is that not being a calamitous disaster is probably the best thing you can say about this. And for this economy to recover, we need more than not a disaster.
In a way, Bernstein’s argument is that the freeze isn’t really that much of a freeze. But if that’s the case, why do it all? It runs the risk of looking like a political gimmick, and even if it is a narrowly crafted as Bernstein argues, isn’t it hard to square the spending freeze proposal with the need to pass the health care bill? And isn’t the administration making it harder than ever to request the kind of funding that we’ll need to invest in rebuilding our energy economy? Perhaps more than anything else, this is intended to be a signal that with the stimulus under its belt and health care almost on its way, the administration is done thinking big.
OK, then. Aren’t we marching towards a situation that looks something like Poor Americans Thunder Dome, where decision makers pit one group of poor, working people against another to determine what sort of program survives and what programs are cut?
As Jed says, we need big thinking and this is most definitely not it. Even as a gimmick, it makes good Democratic policy ideas in other areas even harder to implement. It undermines the abilities of Democrats to tell a persuasive story about what they believe and why they should become reality.