Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

CRFB's MacGuineas Reacts to Obama's Spending Freeze

Jan 28, 2010 | Budget Process| Other Spending

Yesterday, CRFB President Maya MacGuineas had an op-ed in CNN calling President Obama's proposed non-security freeze A Good First Step. Here are some highlights:

$250 billion, while obviously a large number, is a very small share of the [$12 trillion] Congress is poised to borrow -- and add to the debt -- in the coming decade. It would be fair, then, to say that this is a baby step -- OK, it's a teeny-weeny tiptoe of a step -- in the right direction. But there have been so many steps in the wrong direction in recent years, such as extending tax cuts, that anything that it can legitimately be argued would help bring down future deficits should be heralded as an important move.

[T]he president is going to have to back up his promise with more than words for it to be seen as credible. What it needs is teeth. First, he should promise to veto any appropriations bills that exceed the limits he has put forward for spending... Second, he should support statutory spending caps that enforce his limits. This is an idea that is gaining momentum in the Senate and House, and it is the ideal companion piece to his suggested freeze. From Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, to Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, he need not look far to find a host of good ideas.

Finally, there is the issue of the rest of the budget. Non-security is only a small sliver of discretionary spending, and discretionary is only a small sliver of total spending. All told, we are talking about less than one-sixth of the budget. It would be more sensible to cap all discretionary spending and force policymakers to make tradeoffs between defense and other security parts of the budget as well, not just within the relatively small non-security category. And then there are still the big enchiladas -- Social Security, health spending, and taxes -- to be dealt with.