Len Burman approves--but not because he thinks it will boost output and employment in the short term or do anything to solve our long-term fiscal problems (it does, after all, expire after three years). Len Burman approves of the freeze because--wait for it--it sends "[t]he message... that government jobs no longer come with life tenure".
How a three-year discretionary spending freeze sends the message that government jobs no longer come with life tenure is left as an exercise to the reader.
TaxVox: the Tax Policy Center blog :: Warm thoughts about Obama's freeze: The growth of government will have to be constrained and applying a scalpel to less effective programs is, as Howard Gleckman said, “a start.”
As for the Republicans, get real! Yeah, the big problem is entitlements and not discretionary spending. But when President Obama tried to limit Medicare growth in the health reform bill, you guys emerged as the defenders of the seniors’ health program. How do you suggest the president take on mandatory spending? How about a budget commission? No, you and your liberal co-obstructionists in the Senate shot that down yesterday.
Cutting discretionary spending is hard for a Democratic president. Republicans who care about the size of government should applaud rather than sneer. (Encouragingly, Senator McCain and a few other prominent Republicans have expressed support, although the leadership is still dismissive.)
But I've concluded that Obama’s freeze isn’t aimed at either Republicans or the Democratic base. It’s a populist move meant to assuage those who are ticked off that the federal payroll has grown while private-sector jobs have been vanishing at an alarming rate. The message in the freeze is that government jobs no longer come with life tenure. To that end, Pelosi and Reid’s protestations are a plus—if the president can put together a coalition to implement the freeze. And such a bipartisan coalition would provide comfort to the independents who are fleeing Obama’s camp.
That said, the freeze is a risky move. If the President can’t pull it off, he’ll lose the populist boost while undermining his base support.