Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Obama administration: when $100 million is more than $8 billion

It's tough when your spin from yesterday gets caught up with your spin from today. That happened to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs when Jake Tapper pointed out that a few weeks ago the White House was pooh-poohing saving $8 billion dollars on earmarks in the budget bill from last year, yet now is trumpeting Obama's order to save $100 million dollars. Poor Gibbs can't come up with anything coherent to defend this mathematical point.
APPER: You were talking about an appropriations bill a few weeks ago about $8 billion being minuscule -- $8 billion in earmarks. We were talking about that and you said that that...

GIBBS: Well, in terms of -- in...(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: ...$100 million is a lot but $8 billion is small?

GIBBS: Well, what I'm saying is I think it all adds up just as the president said, just as Jennifer was good enough to do in her question. If you think we're going to get rid of $1.3 trillion deficit by eliminating one thing, I'd be -- and the administration would be innumerably happy for you to let us know what that is.
Here is some of the video. Gibbs is pressed, but he still can't answer the basic question.
Q -- (inaudible) the people want to know. On the domestic side, just again to draw you on this $100 billion. When Republicans were criticizing earmarks and also provisions in the stimulus bill like the contraceptives, the President repeatedly returned to the theme that this was a small amount of the overall package. And I don't see how it cannot be construed as a double standard to have him say, well, that's a small amount, but this $100 million that I'm saving, that's really important. How is that not a double standard?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not also mix apples and oranges here, because the point that we were making was that whatever that amount is, it shouldn't stand in the way of an even greater commitment to help our economy recover and to invest in the things that the President believed were important for long-term growth.

Q Well, on the earmarks, though, the earmarks was the same --

MR. GIBBS: Same thing.

Q No, it was -- he was saying, look, this isn't a big deal; it's just a small part of this overall big bill, and why hang it up over something small?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we covered many of those arguments at the time. We also were dealing with last year's omnibus appropriations bill. Again, we're going to have to make cuts in programs that don't work. We're going to have to find administrative savings where previously people didn't think there were savings. We're going to have to look at programs, big and small, in order to get this country back on a path toward fiscal sustainability.
Got that. Saving $8 billion dollars in earmarks that the Republicans complained about from an appropriations bill that the Congress had already put together was unneccessary because it was "a small part of this overall big bill." Well what does that make $100 million as part of the entire government budget?

The math is ridiculous. The argument is phony. And this $100 million, while it is always nice for the government to save money and we hope to see more of this, is so minuscule that even the Associated Press is laughing at it.
The thrifty measures Obama ordered for federal agencies are the equivalent of asking a family that spends $60,000 in a year to save $6.

Obama made his push for frugality the subject of his first Cabinet meeting, ensuring it would command the capital's attention. It also set off outbursts of mental math and scribbled calculations as political friend and foe tried to figure out its impact.

The bottom line: Not much.

The president gave his Cabinet 90 days to find $100 million in savings to achieve over time.

For all the trumpeting, the effort raised questions about why Obama set the bar so low, considering that $100 million amounts to:

--Less than one-quarter of the budget increase that Congress awarded to itself.

--4 percent of the military aid the United States sends to Israel.

--Less than half the cost of one F-22 fighter plane.

--7 percent of the federal subsidy for the money-losing Amtrak passenger rail system.

--1/10,000th of the government's operating budgets for Cabinet agencies, excluding the Iraq and Afghan wars and the stimulus bill.
Hey, how about knocking out John Murtha's earmarks? That would put Obama about a third of the way there.