May 7, 2009 *
OK, "slash" may be a little strong. Of course, no one seriously expects President Obama to make budget scrutiny a high priority, because after all, it would contradict one of his party's core principles. But since times are tight for most folks, he has to at least make a show of it. In his first weeks in office, Obama promised to go through the federal budget "line by line," hunting for wasteful programs that could be cut, and today he announced the results. He proposes to cut back on 121 programs and save $17 billion, which sounds like an impressive figure indeed. When compared to the overall federal budget of $3.4 trillion, however, it's only one half of a percent. Even worse, the programs chosen for cuts have strong constituencies on Capitol Hill, so there is no guarantee that even those modest reductions will actually take place. In their defense, administration officials say they hope to save an additional $300 billion in from federal health programs, as the government gains increasing control over the delivery of health care services. See the Washington Post
Granted, Obama is not under a lot of pressure to deliver meaningful cuts, as his "honeymoon" with the American people continues into the summer and the opposition remains muted and hamstrung. House Minority Leader John Boehner's criticisms of Obama's budget ring hollow because of the Republicans' shaky fiscal record over the past eight years. (In his final budget proposal, President Bush called for custs of about $34 billion, twice the size of Obama's cuts, but still not much.) But there is a real danger if Obama makes a big rhetorical push for these modest savings, as it would create the false impression in many Americans' minds that they are being forced to endure painful sacrifice. It's also entirely possible that this is just a big publicity stunt for a cause that Obama doesn't really care about, in which case it would pave the way for even bigger deficits than are currently projected.
Most people expected that David Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be the next Supreme Court Justice to vacate their post, but it is actually David Souter, who announced his retirement on Thursday. As for a replacement, President Obama said he wants someone with "empathy," who can "identify with people's hopes and aspirations." (See Washington Post.) Huh? How is that a qualification to be a legal authority?
The leading object of speculation to replace Souter is Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who would become the first person of Latin American heritage to sit in the highest court. In our identity-obsessed culture, a female justice who is a member of a minority would qualify as a "two-fer" for Obama.
Sen. Arlen Specter is having an awkward time transitioning from the Republicans to the Democrats. For one thing, he can't instantly change his position on issues in which he has a strong commitment. As the New York Times reports, in addition, he "is viewed with suspicion by his new Democratic colleagues, with general disdain by his old Republican friends, and with an odd mix of amusement and pity all around." It's lonely in the middle these days, but that's bound to change eventually. And as Senator Olympia Snowe wrote at RLC, the GOP "Didn't Have to Lose Arlen Specter." She made an amusing comparison between being a Republican moderate to being a cast member of the TV show "Survivor," in which you always fear getting "voted off the island." How true.
It appears that Jeff Frederick won't seek to regain the RPV chairmanship after all, but instead, his lawyer will vie for the post. In his announcement, Bill Stanley echoed many of Frederick's themes, insisting that the GOP "must be driven by its conservative 'grass roots,' and it "must not permit the judgment of the few to instruct or override the will of the many." See the News Leader. Like, for example, the Augusta County Republican mass meeting in April 2008, I gather? The candidate who won by a decisive 141-103, but the losing candidate was later deemed the "winner" by higher-level party officials.
The staff at the Republican Leadership Council have belatedly approved my rather pointed blog post "Dumping on the Republicans," which I submitted at the same time that I posted it here last Nov. 20.
* In Los Angeles, where the Washington Nationals just beat the Dodgers, it is still May 7.