WASHINGTON -- Days after several hundred thousand angry Americans rallied to protest President Obama's big-spending agenda, he asked his Cabinet to find ways to cut $100 million from the budget.
It was a defensive, seemingly symbolic move to blunt the political impact of last week's nationwide April 15 "tea party" rallies that drew nearly 400,000 Americans to some 300 events from Bakersfield, Calif., to Atlanta, Ga., where more than 15,000 people showed up.
The proposed budget cuts represented a paltry sum of money that paled in comparison to Obama's nearly $4 trillion budget that spends $100 million every 13.5 minutes. It comes out to one-twentieth of 1 percent of the $192.3 billion budget deficit for the month of March alone.
Harvard economist Greg Mankiw crunched Obama's theoretical savings another way: $100 million represents .003 percent of $3.5 trillion.
The White House's outside political apparatus bashed the tax rallies, claiming they were the work of lobbying groups in Washington. But the truth is that the size, energy and spontaneity of the crowds, organized by local taxpayers who had never done anything like this before, shook the White House.
Obama strategists feared -- as some independent analysts concluded -- that they could be part of a fast-growing movement in the country who think government is getting too big, spending is out of control, and taxes are too high. These were concerned Americans reacting to Obama's spending spree in just the last two months that included a $410 billion omnibus spending bill, an $800 billion economic stimulus and a $3.5 trillion budget for next year.
"What's most striking about the tea-party movement is that most of the organizers haven't ever organized, or even participated, in a protest rally before. General disgust has drawn a lot of people off the sidelines and into the political arena, and they are already planning for political action," wrote Glenn Harlan Reynolds at the Wall Street Journal Online.
"It's not a big Republican effort. It's a big popular effort. But a mass movement of ordinary people who don't feel their voices are being heard doesn't bode well for the party that positioned itself as the organ of hope and change," he reported last week.
Indeed, at Monday's Cabinet meeting, Obama spoke ominously of "a confidence gap, when it comes to the American people ... And we've got to earn their trust."