Chris Wallace’s interview with David Plouffe on Fox News Sunday suggests an administration that’s afraid to argue for what it really wants, isn’t sure what to say it really wants, and isn’t saying anything very well. During the course of the interview, Plouffe incorporated many of the administration’s favorite rhetorical expressions. He talked about the need to “win the future.” He used the need to use “a scalpel, not a machete” to cut spending. And he talked about the need for “a balanced approach” (not to be confused with balancing the books). But he also made at least two more specific claims that merit rebuttal.
Wallace noted that President Obama’s 2012 budget doesn’t address runaway entitlement spending. Plouffe replied, “Well, first, on the 2012 budget, that would be a trillion dollars in deficit reduction over the next decade, lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), however, says (see Table 1) that Obama’s 2012 budget would increase deficit spending by $9.5 trillion over the next decade, which is $2.7 trillion more than deficit spending would be even under current trajectories. That’s a far cry from $1 trillion in deficit reduction.
Moreover, it’s unclear what Plouffe meant by “domestic” spending (which would seem to cover most of the federal budget), but the White House’s own historical tables (see Table 1.3) show that total federal spending since the Eisenhower administration has averaged $1.5 trillion in inflation-adjusted (constant fiscal-year 2005) dollars and 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). For 2012, Obama has proposed inflation-adjusted spending of $3.3 trillion (in constant FY 2005 dollars) and 24 percent of GDP — both of which are numbers that we never hit between World War II and 2009. (In fact, we never hit Obama's proposed level of inflation-adjusted spending — or his proposed level of inflation-adjusted deficit spending — during WWII.) Under Obama’s budget, such numbers would become commonplace: By 2021 (year 10 of Obama’s budget), spending would continue to be at 24 percent of GDP.
Elsewhere in the interview, Plouffe praised the bipartisan agreement in December, spearheaded by the Republicans, to extend the Bush tax cuts. He characterized it as a moment “when the parties came together, with the President’s leadership, to cut taxes for everybody in America” (including the wealthy). Moments earlier, he had criticized House Republicans for proposing a budget that would extend the Bush tax cuts and lower tax rates for everybody in America (including the wealthy).
Having just praised the agreement that provided a tax cut extension for all Americans, Plouffe then indicated that these cuts should be rescinded. That prompted the following exchange:
Wallace: “So, basically, you’re going back to rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the…”
Plouffe: “Yes, for the wealthy.”
Wallace: “But that’s not gonna pass. It didn’t pass in the lame-duck session. And it isn’t gonna pass with this House of Republicans.”
Later, Wallace and Plouffe had the following exchange about the recently passed continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government for the rest of this year:
Plouffe: “We always were clear that we are gonna need to cut spending…”
Wallace: “You didn’t offer any cuts in the beginning.”
Plouffe: “Well, no, it was clear as we did the debates on this in terms of the CR, we are going to have to cut spending. The President was eager to do that.”
Wallace (incredulously interjecting): “Eager?”
It was, in short, not a successful appearance for the Obama team.