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To reduce federal government spending by $38 billion in the second and third quarters of 2011 when the unemployment rate is 8.9% and the U.S. Treasury can borrow on terms that make pulling spending forward from the future into the present essentially free is not an accomplishment.
It will knock between 0.5% and 1.0% off the growth rate of real GDP in the second half of 2011, and leave us at the start of 2012 with an unemployment rate a couple of tenths of a percent higher than it would have been otherwise.
Remember all those boasts from the Obama administration last November about how they had gotten a fiscal stimulus through congress to boost the economy in 2012? All that was just undone, offset, neutralized.
And so once again, we are defeated.
2011 is not 1995: The final compromise was $38.5 billion below 2010's funding levels. That's $78.5 billion below President Obama's original budget proposal, which would've added $40 billion to 2010's funding levels, and $6.5 billion below John Boehner's original counteroffer....
Obama bragged about "making the largest annual spending cut in our history." Harry Reid joined him, repeatedly calling the cuts "historic." It fell to Boehner to give a clipped, businesslike statement on the deal. If you were just tuning in, you might've thought Boehner had been arguing for moderation, while both Obama and Reid sought to cut deeper. You would never have known that Democrats had spent months resisting these "historic" cuts, warning that they'd cost jobs and slow the recovery.
Boehner, of course, could afford to speak plainly. He'd not just won the negotiation but had proven himself in his first major test as speaker of the House. He managed to get more from the Democrats than anyone had expected, sell his members on voting for a deal that wasn't what many of them wanted and avert a shutdown. There is good reason to think that Boehner will be a much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton.
So why were Reid and Obama so eager to celebrate Boehner's compromise with his conservative members? The Democrats believe it's good to look like a winner, even if you've lost....
The Obama White House is looking toward the Clinton model. After all, Clinton also suffered a major setback in his first midterm, Clinton also faced down a hardline Republican Congress, Clinton also suffered major policy defeats, and yet Clinton, as the story goes, managed to co-opt the conservative agenda and remake himself into a successful centrist. The Obama administration has even hired many of Clinton's top aides to help them recapture that late-90s magic.
That story misses something important: Clinton's success was a function of a roaring economy. The late '90s were a boom time like few others -- and not just in America. The unemployment rate was less than 6 percent in 1995, and fell to under 5 percent in 1996. Cutting deficits was the right thing to do at that time. Deficits should be low to nonexistent when the economy is strong, and larger when it is weak. The Obama administration's economists know that full well. They are, after all, the very people who worked to balance the budget in the 1990s, and who fought to expand the deficit in response to the recession.
Right now, the economy is weak. Giving into austerity will weaken it further.... [I]f Obama does not get a recovery, then he will not be a successful president, no matter how hard he works to claim Boehner's successes as his own...
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