St. Obama of the Debtors

A planned meeting with credit card companies may not be as constructive as the administration suggests.

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As a fiscal disciplinarian, President Obama is a bit inconsistent. A move to make his Cabinet practice some piggy-bank restraint is less than ambitious, but his wagging finger directed at credit card companies could have some force behind it. On the issue of torture, meanwhile, Obama delegates down the power of prosecution. All told, Obama rings up another35 on the Change-o-Meter.

The president met with his (almost full) Cabinet yesterday in a gathering that had the ominous appearance of a vast sea of gray and gloom, plus Hillary Clinton. Obama used the opportunity to ask his advisers to work together to trim $100 million from the $3.6 trillion federal budget. Predictably, critics were mocking the paltry sum before Obama had even finished his sentence, and Obama himself conceded that the move is symbolic, somewhat akin to clipping coupons for breakfast cereal while continuing to eat dinner every night at a five-star restaurant. (Critics helpfully calculated that $100 million is 0.0025 percent of annual federal spending.) But Obama claims that the cuts are intended to “set a tone,” not balance the books, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel assured skeptics that this is simply the first in a series of steps to cut trillions of dollars over the next decade. The ‘Meter, meanwhile, knows a drop in the bucket when it sees one but will award 10 points since a penny slashed from the budget—or 10 billion pennies, in this case—is still a penny earned.

Later this week, Obama will assume the role of patron saint of credit card customers when he meets with the credit division executives of 14 major banks. Obama is expected to take a hard line with the companies, joining the chorus of legislators attempting to push broad regulatory bills through Congress that would limit the companies’ abilities to impose fees and to tinker with interest rates. What the White House is calling an “outreach meeting” is sounding a lot less friendly given the threat of legislation behind it. Considering the average American household has $9,000 worth of credit card debt, the ‘Meter likes the sound of Obama’s firm stance (and the coordinated effort with Congress) and tosses him 20 points.

Finally, Obama teetered a little from his perch on the fence regarding the prosecution of those involved in the “harsh interrogation techniques” used on suspected terrorists during the Bush years. Yesterday, Obama attempted to reassure employees at the CIA headquarters, saying that he did not favor prosecution of agents who were following legal advice. Today, he tweaked his official position by suggesting (but not calling for) a commission to investigate the issue and deferring to (but not encouraging) Attorney General Eric Holder on matters of prosecuting the Bush lawyers who OK’d the whole thing. While the ‘Meter is half-inclined to shave points for what looks like pandering to the revenge-minded base, we did deduct on Friday for the appearance that the president wanted to move on too quickly. Obama wins five points for (sort of) opening up options to right wrongs without turning the situation into one big ad campaign for why not to work for the federal government.

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