Spending Freeze Won't Melt Partisan Divide

Trying to prove he's serious about reining in dangerously-high deficits, the president, in the State of the Union address, will propose a three-year freeze on federal spending.

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But, reports CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid, take a closer look -- it applies to only 12.5 percent of the budget. Defense, homeland security and veterans benefits are exempt, and so are the sky-rocketing budgets of Medicare, Medicaid and social security.

It's expected to save a mere $250 billion over 10 years -- that's less than three percent of the $9 trillion that will be added to the national debt during that period.

Still, the White House says every little bit helps.

"This is not the only thing that we are going to be doing to bring down the deficit but what I would say is it's a start," White House budget director Peter Orszag said.

Many liberals are furious at the president - bombarding the Internet with predictions that social programs will be targeted.

Republicans say it's not enough.

"We've been on quite a binge over the last 12 months and it's going to take a lot more than just this modest freeze to get us back on the right track," Sen. Mitch McConnell said.

Some Republicans say it's little more than a gimmick; as one put it, it's like "going on a diet after winning a pie eating contest."

Even some Democrats warned of economic calamity if dramatic action isn't taken.

"We are on a course that is totally unsustainable," Sen. Kent Conrad said.

Despite all the red ink, the Senate today rejected creation of a bi-partisan commission to come up with a blueprint for major deficit cuts.

It was voted down by liberals worried about cuts in Medicare and social security, and by conservatives who fear tax hikes.

"The outlook for the federal budget is bleak," said Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Adding to the gloom the Congressional Budget Office today said unemployment is expected to average 10.1 percent this year and drop only slightly next year to 9.5 percent.

"More of the pain of unemployment from this downturn lies ahead of us than behind us," Elmendorf said.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com