Let Spending Dogs Lie

Obama chooses not to fight earmarks from last year’s tardy spending bill.

The Change-o-Meter is now a widget. You can add it to your blog, Web site, or profile with just a few clicks. (Shortcut for Facebook here.) Each time we publish a new column, the widget will automatically update to reflect the latest score.

President Obama is spending political capital like it’s still the days of easy credit as he eyes health care reform and builds consensus on a plan for Iraq. The ‘Meter is not such a fan of Obama’s willful inattention to a host of 2008 earmarks, but he recoups most of his losses by returning the Israeli-Palestinian issue to a prominent place among his foreign policy priorities. Today, Obama scores 35 on the Change-o-Meter.

Obama scored major points on Friday’s Change-o-Meter for both the Iraq plan itself and the plaudits he received from Republican lawmakers for his decision to draw down the war by 2010. Over the weekend, both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen endorsed Obama’s timetable. While no one was expecting either of them to split with his commander in chief, the tone suggests a genuine consensus between the White House and the Pentagon. Both men praised Obama’s willingness to consider the advice of military commanders, with Gates describing his boss as “more analytical” than George W. Bush. Obama notches 20 points on the Change-O-Meter for that show of solidarity.

Meanwhile, K Street is bracing for Obama’s
universal-health-care plan. The administration won’t announce specifics until Thursday, but the lobbies for hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies are already angsty over the prospect of their industries taking a financial hit. That opposition, plus the generally miserable state of the economy, is not going to make this battle any easier. But as Politico notes, introducing the plan now is a shrewd political gambit, for which he receives 20 points. On that note, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, a renowned bipartisan negotiator, is a terrific choice for secretary of HHS. But Obama already got points for that.

Not all spending is created equal, however. The $410 billion in spending bills before the Senate is a good example of the sort of
earmarks run amok that Obama railed against on the trail. The bills, which fund programs for the year that began in October, contain nearly 9,000 earmarks, the New York Times reports. Republicans eager to make noise about Democrats’ spending are crying foul—and not unfairly—saying that Obama promised to check pork while he was on the stump. The Obama administration volunteered a rather lousy excuse—that since the bill is part of the current fiscal year, which began before Obama took office, it’s best to let spending dogs lie and move on to the budget and crises at hand. But in financial hard times, there’s no reason not to leap at the chance to retroactively save a little dough. And a promise is a promise. The ‘Meter deducts 15 points.

Finally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared in Egypt today to reiterate the United States’ support for an independent Palestinian state. Policywise, her remarks didn’t differ much from the rhetoric of the Bush administration, which pursued unsuccessful policies of supporting the Palestinian Authority while excluding Hamas from any political negotiations. But Clinton’s presence has been taken as a sign that U.S. efforts on behalf of Palestinians won’t stagnate as they did in the Bush years. For returning policy focus toward this important issue, Obama gets 10 more on the ‘Meter

There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.