President Obama and the then-Democratic Congress spent the first two years of his term setting new records for federal spending, much of it on pork, even as it was clear the economy was collapsing. Their high-spending habits caused voters to send them to the showers, so to speak, in last year's elections and gave Republicans control of the House. And not just the type of "me-too" Republicans that are quietly happy with high spending levels, but Tea Party types with but one thing in mind - cutting spending.
The Tea Party contingent demanded and got a bill that cut federal spending by $61 billion. The final deal midwifed by Speaker John Boehner approved late Friday cut spending by "only" $39 billion, but that still represents a new mindset on Capitol Hill. That is $78 billion less spending that the president had originally proposed. Also keep in mind that domestic discretionary spending, which had seen its rate of growth more than double from 6 percent in 2008 to 14 percent last year, will now be cut by 4 percent.
But there's no cause for jubilation. After all, despite the $39 billion in cuts, we are still looking at a $1.6 trillion deficit for FY11.
And that brings us back to the president, who in the wake of Friday's deal has been trying to portray himself as a budget-cutter. The fact is, though, that that deal has "reset" the landscape in Washington and left Obama's original budget proposal dead in the water. (It would raise not just taxes, but also spending and the deficit.) In contrast, House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan has proposed a FY12 budget that addresses deficit reduction and entitlement growth in a thoughtful and compassionate way - something that Obama/Reid/Pelosi have never done, or tried to do.
The president is slated to address the nation tonight on live TV to discuss his budget plans. He came into office in a "spend, spend, spend" frame of mind, even though it was obvious the country could not afford it. So will he now finally get serious about reining in federal spending, or merely use his speech as a chance to demagogue Ryan and the Republicans?
We'll be watching.