Let Slip the Watchdogs

Obama appoints an aggressive investigator to monitor stimulus cash and promises to halve the deficit.

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President Obama says he will tackle the deficit with some smart policies and gets tough on everything from stimulus spending to terrorists to Social Security reform. He’s looking after Medicaid, too. He reneges on promises of transparency, however, when it comes to Bush e-mails and deals civil rights a blow over military detainees in Afghanistan. All in all, it’s good for a 50 on the Change-o-Meter.

With his budget proposal for 2010 days away from release, news outlets can do naught but talk about Obama’s plans to halve the deficit—which is the largest it has been since World War II—to 3 percent of U.S. GDP (at which point experts classify the deficit as “sustainable”) by 2013. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House’s efforts to do so will be tied to withdrawal from Iraq and the expiration in 2011 of Bush tax cuts to families with incomes of more than $250,000 a year. Any programs that increase the deficit would also need to be offset by spending cuts. That’s tough, but these are all good things,   earning Obama 30 on the Change-o-Meter. He’s also abandoning the fuzzy math that Bush used to make the deficit looks smaller, like not including war costs in the budget.

And speaking of honest money, if you’re antsy about the price tag on the stimulus bill, know that Obama has appointed a government investigator described by the New York Times as “the busiest gumshoe inside the federal bureaucracy” to make sure bureaucrats spend the money responsibly. Politico reports that Obama’s stimulus-spending watchdog, Earl E. Devaney, is one of the most aggressive government investigators there is. He also announced that he’s immediately releasing $15 billion to help states cover Medicaid costs. Obama scores 25 on the ‘Meter for this one.

But don’t think the president is all transparent all the time—over the weekend, the Obama administration moved against the case to recover the possibly millions of Bush-era e-mails that may still be missing from White House computers due to improper electronic record-keeping. The ‘Meter slides left by 10 for that one.

Obama’s team also sided with the Bush administration regarding the legal status of at least 600 military detainees held in Afghanistan, agreeing that they cannot legally challenge their imprisonment. Knock off another 10 points. In addition, Obama is amping up missile strikes against terrorist training camps in Pakistan. The Times muses that the Obama administration may be trying to demonstrate that it “is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern” to Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. We’ll restore those 10 points for flexing his military muscle when needed.

Finally, Obama has betrayed signs that he just can’t wait to try rustling up bipartisan support again, this time for Social Security reform. However, many Democrats who are loath to cut benefits and say they are eager to tackle other, more pressing issues pooh-poohed his idea for a Social Security task force. He’s scrapped it for now, but Obama gets 5 points for his attention to a system that’s going to be in trouble sooner or later and for realizing that retooling it will take sacrifice.

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