Mr. President, keep the change

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In late April of this year, at the three-month mark of his administration, President Obama challenged his cabinet to save $100 million over the following 90 days. Well, not surprisingly those 90 days have come and gone without the spend-happy administration saying anything about meeting the goals of this self-imposed publicity stunt.

Now don’t get me wrong, any effort to curb out-of-control spending by the rapidly expanding bureaucracy is a good thing. However, at a time when most Americans are personally feeling the pinch of the economic crisis and are understandably cutting back on their own spending, we should expect the president’s own cabinet to be able to respond to his challenge by finding a mere $100 million in savings out of the $3 trillion-plus annual federal budget. After all, that kind of money is only the equivalent of the average American forgoing their daily Starbucks run.

And while I fully anticipate the administration to quickly find a quick way out of this public relations nightmare, it does raise an important question: If the cabinet cannot make these miniscule cuts now, then how can we have confidence that they will show future restraint in an effort to slow down the skyrocketing national deficit? Unfortunately, we cannot.

The federal government’s potent spending combination of bank rescues, bailouts and other economic “rescue” programs is getting costlier by the minute. According to the recent congressional testimony of Neil Barofsky, a special inspector general assigned to the nation’s finances, these bailouts could end up costing us an astounding $23.7 trillion — a number that exceeds the combined cost of every war the United States has ever fought and is far north of the nation’s annual GDP.

Of greater concern is the fact that this calculation does not even include the administration’s proposal for comprehensive health care reform — an effort that will require massive tax increases on American families and likely push our nation into even greater debt.

Our nation is continuing to lose jobs at record pace; the economic forecast remains murky at best, and the federal government simply refuses to control its spending. The result is that the $1.84 trillion projected year-end deficit — already four times larger than past records — may in fact have been way too optimistic.

In short, we are spending at record pace and putting our country into back-breaking debt — a lasting “gift” that we can expect to pass on to our children’s children.

It is no wonder that Americans are starting to question President Obama’s ability to handle our economy effectively. In a recent poll conducted by USA Today, 49 percent (and climbing) of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy.

It hasn’t taken Americans long to recognize that we were short-changed on the promises then-candidate Obama made to us about his stewardship of the nation’s finances. It is time for the president to start following through on government policies of fiscal discipline and decreased spending, beginning with his own cabinet. Then, perhaps an increasing number of Americans wouldn’t be telling President Obama that he can keep his “change.”

(Mike Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation ( E-mail comments to