What does spending "freeze" mean anyway?

JANUARY 26, 2010

Update: See also Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch for a healthy dose of reality.

First I think we have to agree that a discretionary spending freeze would be a step in the right direction. If Obama follows through on this promise we should be willing to pat him on the back, “good job old chap!” and maybe even buy him a beer. Yes I know that it would only apply to 17% of the economy and that the entitlements, which are really sinking the ship, are left untouched, but I’m trying to be positive. After all, it isn’t every day that someone as ideological as Barack Obama steps back from the brink of radicalism.

But these are bizarre times in which definitions of words like “job creation” and “spending freeze” are not always clear and could be hiding something sinister. So we have to ask: What is a spending freeze anyway?

It’s a law being passed that forbids the increase in funding for any discretionary program, right? Except no report I see says anything about the spending freeze being statutory. “President Barack Obama intends to propose a three-year freeze in spending … ” says the Wall Street Journal. According to the USA Today the freeze will be part of the yet unreleased budget. But isn’t the budget supposed to be the thing being frozen, so it’s a little unclear (a) how a budget freezes itself and (b) why you would need one if it could.

Things become clearer (and yet foggier) if you read the WSJ article closely. A spending freeze, if not statutory, should at least mean the spending is held down across the board, right. Regardless of the perceived value of the program? Otherwise, you aren’t freezing the budget, you’re just freezing the programs you don’t like, which should happen every year anyway right?

But in the WSJ article we have this little nugget:

The administration officials said the cap won’t be imposed across the board. Some areas would see cuts while others, including education and investments related to job creation, would realize increases.

So a non-statutory (and probably non-binding) freeze isn’t even an across the board cap. It’s merely a pledge to prioritize spending, which should be done every year, but clearly is not.

So it appears, at least according to the press reports, that Obama is offering the American public a non-statutory, non-binding promise to cut a few programs to pay for the expansion of other programs, but overall saving the taxpayer “10 to 15 billion” in 2011 which is just about 0.7 percent of the projected Federal Budget Deficit in 2010.

Is that Hope and Change you can believe in or what?

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