- Matriculation: In his admission application essay, Barack Obama vowed to "chang[e] the way Washington does business" and "restor[e] fiscal discipline." He was elected class president after campaigning to "cut the deficit in half." For the first semester, he enrolled in "Budgeting 209," the course description of which reads:
Review the budget line-by-line for waste. We should be investing taxpayer dollars in efforts and programs with proven records of success and reallocating or cutting programs that do not work or whose benefits are not worth their cost. Secretary of Defense Gates has unveiled an unprecedented effort to reform defense contracting, and the President has launched a line-by-line review of the federal budget to pinpoint what programs works and what needs to be terminated or reduced in scope.Following three quizzes and a term paper, the mid-term exam was Thursday, where students had to draft a budget including proposed spending cuts.
- Quiz scores: Econ 101 was a prerequisite for this course, so familiarity with Adam Smith and David Ricardo was presumed. Yet, on the first quiz, Obama pumped Federal spending; on the second, he ballooned the projected deficit to unprecedented levels; on the third, he expanded government, as opposed to private sector wealth generation. It's as if he slept through the taped 2001 lectures by Dean Summers. It will only make preparing for the final harder. Grade: F.
- Mid-term exam: Obama's answers seemed rushed and poorly reasoned. He only suggested spending cuts totaling "$17 billion, a tiny fraction of next year's $3.4 trillion budget." That's trivial. And he may have made math errors: some in the finance department say the $17 billion figure is overstated. Anyway, it turned out Obama promised any savings to other students, redirected automatically as opposed to reducing the school's deficit. Grade: D.
- Term paper: Early in the semester, Obama called classmates' term papers necessary but critiquing them in practice as riddled with wasteful and self-serving marks of ear. Yet for his term paper, Obama blue-penciled only one of the appropriations from his quiz answers--a mere "$19.3 million for rebuilding the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center accelerator so the lab can use it to diversify into new science missions," touted in March by his classmate Jeff Bingaman. Obama signed off on it then, but on Thursday recognized that it "was built 30 years ago and no longer plays a critical role in weapons research." A well-argued point, but he missed at least 8,815 similar examples. Grade: D.
- Community service: To raise money for the school, Obama chose not to hold a bake sale privatizing existing programs (such as social security) but instead undertook to reallocate funds not needed elsewhere. The faculty was particularly keen on this student's commitment, given his prior experience in organizing for communities. But Obama under-performed even his predecessor by proposing a trim "less ambitious than the hit list former president George W. Bush produced last year, targeting 151 programs for $34 billion in savings." Either he never really applied himself to the task, or he regretted making--and wanted to back-out from--the commitment. Grade: F.
- Summary: Obama's overall progress--grade point average: 0.5, an F at this stage of the semester. This is particularly disappointing for a student aspiring to be an Econ major.
- Note for the permanent record: I have spoken to the student about the fact that spending's up, the deficit's multiplying, and his line-by-line term paper taking the lazy approach of labeling most everything necessary and efficient. I cautioned him about the limits to "voting yourself rich."
Obama blamed the previous class president for both over spending and under spending. He asked that the "D" on his term paper be considered "incomplete," promising to submit additional, more rigorous budget papers accounting for the stimulus of gay marriage. Plus, he had great marks from the varsity cheerleading squad.
He's a handsome, likable fellow. New grade: A.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Grading Obama's Budget
What if the Presidency were a college course? Should Obama get good marks for making the first steps towards financial sanity? Imagine Obama's mid-semester report card from an ivy-covered academy.