by Nathan Empsall, Fri Nov 13, 2009 at 09:38:40 AM EST
Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei have a story at Politico today called, "After spending binge, White House says it will focus on deficits." The story subtly attacks cap-and-trade, the health care overhaul, and stimulus as little more than "spending" and implies that Obama's coming push in next year's State of the Union is too cynically transparent to help red-state Democrats who voted for his initiatives.
The anti-Obama tone of the article aside, its substance is solid enough: We do have disturbingly high deficits and the President (after paying attention to the even more disturbing problems of climate change, economic collapse, and health insurance deficiencies) is now preparing to address that problem. And true, given the trillion dollar deficit of 2009, it probably won't help Democrats much in 2010 (though it might in 2012).
But tone matters. Why isn't the war in Afghanistan also treated as just more spending when its price tag is roughly equivalent to that of health care? Why should health care reform be treated as "spending" when its $1.055 trillion price tag is less than the $1.159 trillion we'll spend if it doesn't pass? Are we now to consider it fiscally irresponsible to lower the deficit by $104 billion?
The same is true of cap-and-trade. Politico argues that because of its price tag, it's going to have to take a number and wait if the President is serious about deficit reduction:
All presidents promise deficit reduction - and almost always fall short. There is good reason to be skeptical of this White House, too, on its commitment.
For starters, the White House has not dropped plans for an aggressive global warming bill early next year that will be loaded with new spending on green technology and jobs - that would be paid for with tax increases. Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf says the White House focus on deficit reduction could easily kill the cap-and-trade effort. "I think this means cap-and-trade has to go to the backburner," he said.
The implication is that, because he will address climate change before addressing the deficit, Obama is unlikely to address the deficit at all. This is faulty reasoning, for the two are not mutually exclusive issues. Passing clean energy legislation may not change current CBO or GAO budget forecasts, but it will help keep long-term government spending down. Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency said that every year of further delay adds another $500 billion to the cost of global warming's effects. From Reuters:
The IEA, energy adviser to 28 industrialized countries, said the world must act urgently to put greenhouse gases on a track to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. Every year's delay beyond 2010 would add another $500 billion to the extra investment of $10,500 billion needed from 2010-2030 to curb carbon emissions, for example to improve energy efficiency and boost low-carbon renewable energy.
"Much more needs to be done to get anywhere near an emissions path consistent with ... limiting the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees," said the IEA's 2009 World Energy Outlook. "Countries attending the U.N. climate conference must not lose sight of this."
Listen, I'm a deficit hawk. If I were a Congressman, I would have joined Walt Minnick and the 20 House Democrats who voted against the 2010 Congressional budget outline in April. I haven't minded this year's deficit, a necessity to keep the economy afloat, but it has troubled me that the President hasn't seemed to take seriously the importance of lowering it in future years. I find his new commitment encouraging - and unlike Politico, I very much consider spending less on global warming and health insurance a part of that commitment.
Update 2:44pm Central: David Sirota wrote a similarly-themed post at Open Left earlier today. Link and excerpt below the fold.