Mr. Freeze continues to thaw

MR. FREEZE CONTINUES TO THAW…. When John McCain first announced his support for a spending freeze, he said he would exempt “the caring of veterans, national defense and several other vital issues.”

What counts as a “vital issue”? He didn’t say at the time, but the list of “vital” parts of the federal budget keeps getting longer.

Most of the time, [McCain] pledges to freeze spending on “all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care,” pledging to “veto every single pork-barrel earmark.”

But when he’s on [Florida’s] Space Coast — as he was last week — McCain is quick to insert a qualifier: He supports an additional $2 billion for NASA to speed up the new rocket system intended to replace the space shuttle and narrow what’s now planned as a five-year gap between the retirement of the shuttle and the Ares rocket’s first manned flight.

He told a Florida television station that he would “move money around” to protect NASA from a spending freeze because, “Space is vital.”

I’m beginning to wonder if McCain even knows what a “spending freeze” is.

I’ve been keeping a running list of the exceptions McCain has vowed to make to his “freeze,” which now includes for the Pentagon, the V.A., entitlements, healthcare, scientific research, job training, NASA, and other undefined “important programs.”

The point of McCain’s proposed freeze is, of course, to drastically cut federal spending, to help offset the costs of his additional breaks for the wealthy. But as Ali Frick noted, by insisting on all of these exceptions, McCain is stepping on his own message: “A spending freeze that exempts health care, military and veterans programs, and entitlement spending has very little left to freeze.”

Quite right. McCain would apparently still be able to cut funding for law enforcement, infrastructure, and education — a brilliant move during a recession, by the way — while cutting taxes for millionaires, but it would make a very small dent in a very large budget.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.