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David Frum: How to Spend $6.5 Trillion in 100 Days

April 29, 2009
By David Frum
Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009
National Post  (Canada)
Publication Date: April 25, 2009

Resident Fellow
 David Frum

Hey–anybody remember the origin of the phrase, “the 100 days”?

If you guessed Franklin Roosevelt’s burst of New Deal activism in 1933–you guessed wrong.

The phrase came into common use a century earlier, to describe the period from Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from exile on Elba on March 20, 1815, through his defeat at Waterloo, to the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy on July 8, 1815.

In other words: the original 100 days were a total debacle and disaster.

Barack Obama’s 100 days have not gone as badly as Napoleon’s. In money terms, however, they have been considerably more expensive. Since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, President Obama has proposed new spending programs that will add over the next 10 years $6.5-trillion (all figures U. S.) to the American national debt. That’s $6.5-trillion over and above the debt that would have been incurred had the existing policies been left alone. (Not that those existing policies were so great either.)

That’s $65-billion in new debt every single day of the first 100. Expensive.

Obama’s next and more cherished round of over-ambitious plans may stumble over buyer’s remorse for his last round of over-ambitious plans.

And this figure is surely too low, because it is based on (1) almost certainly unduly optimistic assumptions about the growth of the U. S. economy over the next few years and (2) unduly optimistic assumptions about the costs of President Obama’s health care ideas.

Still, even if the numbers are unreliable, they do convey the big picture.

Barack Obama is engaged in a grand redirection of the U. S. economy. He hopes to transform it into an economy that is more centrally directed and controlled. He hopes to redistribute more wealth away from those who create it. Don’t take my word for it. Here is a recent estimate by one of President Obama’s most eminent supporters, John Judis, coauthor of the 2002 book The Emerging Democratic Majority, which predicted and to some extent inspired Obama’s campaign strategy in 2008:

“The Obama budgets will shift even more dramatically the balance of economic power away from the private and toward the public sector. The American relationship of state to economy will begin to look more like that of France and Sweden, whose non-crisis budgets total over 45% of GDP.”

As Judis observes, the Obama administration is not content merely to spend more. It wishes to dictate more too:

“[Obama’s] proposals seek to change not merely the pace of production, investment and consumption, but what is produced and consumed … They are an effort at national planning. And it doesn’t matter, incidentally, whether the administration tries to get its way through manipulating the market or through outright control of investment; what matters is that it is using its governmental power to change the American economy in basic ways.”

The Obama administration’s ambition may well backfire, however. The huge scale of the administration’s early spending commitments–the very real risk that the administration may soon have to return to ask for another $1-trillion or more in bailout funds–has frightened conservative Democrats. Their fears about Obama’s overspending are already jeopardizing his hopes for more redistribution and more social engineering.

The Democratic Congress has already rejected one of Obama’s redistributionist ideas: a limitation of the deductibility of charity gifts for upper-income earners. Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad is balking at the costs of a health care plan. And just this week, Democrats from coal-producing states signed an open letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging that America’s leading carbon-emitting industry be exempted from carbon controls!

Obama’s next and more cherished round of over-ambitious plans may stumble over buyer’s remorse for his last round of over-ambitious plans.

Thus far, of course, the President looks very strong. Not only do his approval ratings remain high, but polls show that the public feels much more optimistic than it did last November. Some administration supporters compare Obama to Ronald Reagan, who did so much to lift American malaise. But Reagan did not receive his big approval numbers until 1983-84, after his boom had started. Reagan inspired optimism by what he accomplished; Obama has inspired optimism by what he has promised.

The promises keep coming. The results? They’re still pending.

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