Obamateurism of the Day

Today’s OOTD goes back more than a year, which I’d normally skip as too far out of date to matter. However, since we get this one from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, I think I’ll make an exception. In the State of the Union speech in January 2010, Barack Obama assured us that he would treat the federal budget just like the family budget:

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. (Applause.) Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

Just “like any cash-strapped family,” eh? Let’s turn to the family purse manager and find out what he thinks of the family-based approach when asked at Dartmouth when the US would return to budget surpluses:

You know, I know it sounds terrible to say it this way, but that’s not the right objective for the government. Government is not like a family. It’s not like a business even. It’s different in that context. We think about a family as having to balance its budget and businesses over time of course have to generate enough revenues to do that. But for a government, it’s perfectly reasonable to borrow at a modest level of income to finance things that improve the long-term growth potential of the country.

Geithner’s right. It does sound terrible to say it that way, which is probably why Obama said the exact opposite to the country while apparently tasking Tim “We’re not a family!” Geithner to keep operating outside a budget.   Nevertheless, Obama’s statement remains very popular at the White House, with it being quoted in ten different places on the official site.  In fact, Obama or his spokesman has said something almost identical three other times this year:

  • February 26, 2011 weekly address: “Just like any family, we have to live within our means to make room for things we absolutely need.”
  • April 21, 2011 town hall in Reno: “Just like any family on a tight budget, America has to start living within its means.  And for a long time, Washington acted like that rule didn’t apply to the federal government.”
  • February 17, 2011 press briefing: “It’s important that we address the budget like any family would  — got to live within your means in order to have the money you  need to invest, to pay for your child’s education, to fix, as the President — I’ve heard him say anyway — fix a leaky roof or a broken boiler.”

It’s one thing to say it.  It’s apparently another thing entirely to mean it, and Geithner’s approach resembles Obama’s economic policy much more closely than Obama’s own words do.  If Obama wants that rule to apply to the federal government, as he asserted in April, maybe he should start with Turbo Tax Timmy.

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

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