February 17, 2013
PRESIDENT NICKEL AND DIME:
Obama sees the limits of government (Zachary Karabell, FEBRUARY 15, 2013, Reuters)
Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2013 9:20 AM[T]he initiatives Obama proposed are striking not for their sweep but for their limited scope. That reflects both pragmatism and realism: Not only is the age of big government really over, so is the age of government as the transformative force in American society. And that is all for the best. [...][W]hile healthcare is billed as an expansion of government, it is more a continuing issue of cost and delivery of something that has to be paid for by someone and at some cost.On almost every other front, government is receding ‑ not just from the financial crisis high tide of 2008-2009 but from decades before. Each of Obama's proposals hones and potentially reduces current spending, whether on education or on infrastructure. That $50 billion for roads appears large. In mid-2012, though, Congress authorized $120 billion in highway expenses through 2014, and much of what Obama proposes could be encompassed by focusing current spending.Even if there is new spending there, it is a pittance compared to the interstate highway bills of the 1950s or the space program of the 1960s, let alone the many programs that encompassed the War on Poverty and led to a vast expansion of federal programs in healthcare, housing and education.Take the minimum wage, the issue that received perhaps the most attention among the president's proposals, save gun control. But increasing the minimum wage isn't a government program. It's a bill that potentially mandates higher costs for some employers. Whether you love it or hate it, it is not an expansion of government ‑ and certainly not of government spending.All these proposals, in fact, are small-bore for the post-New Deal era. They are small-bore compared to the massive 2009 stimulus bill of almost $800 billion. They are small-bore because there is no political ill for them to be larger-bore, and because it is unclear just how much government can use the bazooka of big spending to effect significant changes in society.