An attempt at fiscal restraint trillions of dollars late

Okay, let's say you've completely maxed out your credit cards. At that point, you declare, "Okay, I'll keep spending, but I'll make sure to sell some stuff for the same amount that I'm buying new stuff." Would your friends tell you that that's a good idea -- or tell you that's nuts and to just stop spending in the first place?  

Well, if you're the type to ignore your friends and go with the first idea, consider yourself in good company: The president of the United States would like the country to follow that model.  It's called PAYGO.  Under the gun from many fiscal conservatives -- including those in his own party -- President Obama called today for the government to adopt a budget process that  requires Congress to identify and cut any equivalent dollar in savings for each one spent. 

"Paying for what you spend is basic common sense," Obama said. "Perhaps that's why, here in Washington, it's been so elusive.

Democrats insist the previous version of PAYGO -- in the mid-90s -- helped create a surplus by the early part of this decade. Republicans, on the other hand, have been wary of adopting PAYGO, as, in their view, it makes it easier to raise taxes.

Which, of course, creates opportunity for hypocrisy all around: Republicans don't want any tax increases -- even if it's to spend on, say, an expensive war.  On the other hand, the Obama White House -- having spent close to one trillion dollars already (and it's not July yet) -- now decides it needs to show a bit of fiscal restraint. Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have escaped! 

On Obama's side, it's all very reminiscent of the president announcing earlier this year the need for reform of earmark (individual member-spending) legislation  -- right before he signed a bill that contained some 9,000 earmarks!

This is starting to look like a pattern:  Agree to a certain type of profligate spending, then denounce the spending -- call for reform and then, what? The earmarks proposal has gone nowhere. 

On the other hand, the president's real priority -- his health-care proposal --  with its $635 billion "down-payment" continues apace.  Where's the offset for that spending?  

There isn't any.  And while it is true that PAYGO isn't the law of the land as yet, there would be nothing to stop the president from presenting his own list of cuts in spending.

But perhaps that's asking for too much.

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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