“A hundred million there, a hundred million here, pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money,” President Barack Obama declared last week, paraphrasing a line attributed to the late Republican Senate leader, Everett Dirksen.
The context is a looming policy and fiscal clash: Obama’s economic, energy, health-care and education initiatives are expensive, and the U.S. faces trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.
Commentary by Albert R. Hunt
The president can make a compelling case that these priorities are urgent and can help revive the economy. Still, those initiatives, and a strong economy, may be unattainable without fiscal discipline elsewhere.
Dealing with the cosmetic stuff — curbing congressional pet projects or eliminating fraud and abuse in executive agencies — is fine, if insignificant. Obama needs to deliver on big-ticket luxuries like farm subsidies, tax breaks and a down payment on entitlement reform.
There’s little reason to think congressional Democrats or Republicans are serious about such sacrifices. This isn’t so much about ideology or partisanship; it’s about entrenched interests and habits.
“I am very skeptical that Congress will go along with any retrenchment,” says Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.