At the top of Tuesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez highlighted the latest attempt at populism by the Obama administration: "President Obama calls for a big spending freeze and focuses on plans to help the struggling middle class, but does he have the political support he needs?"
Moments later, co-host Harry Smith introduced the story with a similar declaration: "President Obama will try and calm voter anger during tomorrow's State of the Union address. He'll announce plans to cut the growing federal deficit and help the struggling middle class." Writing for the Heritage Foundation blog, The Foundry , Alison Fraser pointed out the problem with Obama's supposed "spending freeze": "If it applies to last year's supercharged spending on stimulus steroids baseline, it's no freeze at all, but a locking in of spending that was supposed to be temporary."
Freezing government spending at its current record-high level would do nothing to "cut the growing federal deficit" as Smith asserted. White House correspondent Bill Plante pushed the same argument in a report that followed: "...the President has been busy for several days spreading his message of fiscal responsibility....in an effort to show that the federal government has to manage its budget by making choices, just as families must, the President is calling for a freeze on non-security spending for the next three fiscal years."
While Plante acknowledged the political difficulty in passing such a proposal, his report featured no critics of the plan to explain how little spending would actually be frozen.
After Plante's report, Rodriguez discussed the issue with Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, who did make some mention of the insignificance of the spending freeze: "...the payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit. The estimated $250 billion in savings - $250 Billion - over ten years would be less than 3% of the roughly $9 trillion - $9 trillion - in new debt that will accrue over the next ten years."
Despite that fact, Schieffer still thought it was a good move: "I think it's probably good politics for the President to announce this, that he's going to put this freeze in."
Here is a full transcript of the segment:
7:00AM TEASE: MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: President Obama calls for a big spending freeze and focuses on plans to help the struggling middle class, but does he have the political support he needs? We'll bring you the latest from the White House.
HARRY SMITH: We want to start in Washington, where President Obama will try and calm voter anger during tomorrow's State of the Union address. He'll announce plans to cut the growing federal deficit and help the struggling middle class. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more. Good morning, Bill.
BILL PLANTE: Good morning, Harry. The State of the Union address isn't until tomorrow, of course, but the President has been busy for several days spreading his message of fiscal responsibility and the message that he understands the frustrations of middle class Americans.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Big Freeze; Plans Spending Freeze, Focuses On Middle Class]
BARACK OBAMA: The middle class has been under assault for a long time.
PLANTE: Standing with Vice President Biden, Mr. Obama unveiled proposals by the task force on middle class families. Including an increase in the child care tax credit, to 35% from 20%, for families making under $85,000 a year. An increase of $1.6 billion to help working parents pay for child care, covering 235,000 more kids. A cap on college loan repayments at 10% of the borrower's income over basic needs. Adding $100 million to help people care for elderly parents. And requiring employers who don't offer 401(k) plans to offer direct deposit IRAs.
OBAMA: Hopefully some of these steps will re-establish some of the security that's slipped away in recent years.
PLANTE: And in an effort to show that the federal government has to manage its budget by making choices, just as families must, the President is calling for a freeze on nonsecurity spending for the next three fiscal years. That could be difficult to get through Congress because it would mean cutting the pet projects of some members. But economist Elizabeth Sawhill says that may not matter.
ISABEL SAWHILL [THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION]: If the Congress, and Republicans in particular, vote them down, that's for the public to decide how they like that in some upcoming election.
PLANTE: But the main issue, of course, is still jobs and that's likely to be the issue in November. One solution or partial solution, writing in today's New York Times, Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Schumer, Republican and Democrat, are proposing that people who are newly hired pay no Social Security tax - [cough] pardon me - for the rest of this year if they were previously unemployed. So, Maggie.
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: We'll see. Bill Plante, thank you, Bill. Let's bring in CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer. Good morning, Bob.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Good morning, Maggie.
RODRIGUEZ: Bob, if we look at the President's approval rating, the recent election of the Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, clearly Americans are trying to send the President a message. Is this response enough, do you think?
SCHIEFFER: I was thinking about this, it's almost like somebody goes to the doctor for a hearing test and the President is saying, 'look, I hear you, I hear you. My hearing is okay.' And I think what you're going to see this State of the Union message geared to is that theme, the President, the White House, sort of in the Bill Clinton way, shares the pain of those out there that are worried about deficits.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's New Message; Spending Freeze Coupled With Focus On Middle Class]
You know, Maggie, the interesting thing to me about this freeze on all programs except the entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and also government spending, is how little of the deficit - how little of the federal budget it covers. I thought there was one paragraph in the New York Times story of this, this morning, that really kind of summed it up. It said the payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit. The estimated $250 billion in savings - $250 Billion - over ten years would be less than 3% of the roughly $9 trillion - $9 trillion - in new debt that will accrue over the next ten years. That shows you just how massive these sums are that we're talking about.
I think it's probably good politics for the President to announce this, that he's going to put this freeze in. Whether he can get it passed in an election year, when all of these people that are running for re-election in the Congress are out there with their political survival at stake, I think is another matter. He may get a freeze in some of these programs, I think it's going to be very difficult for him to get a freeze in all of them that he's talking about.
RODRIGUEZ: Because if - because voters are paying attention and the economy is clearly the number one issue, not necessarily health care anymore.
SCHIEFFER: Yes. I think that is absolutely correct. But, you know, everybody wants to cut the deficit. Everybody wants to cut spending. They don't want to cut the spending of their pet programs. And that's where the rubber will hit the road on all this. And speaking of health care, Maggie-
RODRIGUEZ: Well, but if they don't Bob, then won't Democrats pay for that in the midterm election?
SCHIEFFER: Well, they may or they may not. If they don't get those programs that the folks back in the home district are worried about and the ones they want, they may take it out on the Congressman. They may penalize them for cutting spending rather than trying to save money. And speaking of health care, I think we're not going to hear about health care. I think you're going to hear a lot about health care in the State of the Union message, but I don't think you're going to see any significant proposal brought to the Congress to vote on for a while yet.
RODRIGUEZ: That is a major shift. Bob Schieffer in Washington. Thanks Bob.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you so much, Maggie.
RODRIGUEZ: You're welcome.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.