Friday, December 14, 2012

Something From Nothing

Here's a provocative article about why Rs can't/won't propose specific spending cuts in the fiscal sort-of-steep-drop-off negotiations. It makes sense to me. I'm among those who've (incorrectly, according to the article) assumed it's just a negotiating tactic: a "you first" sorta thing.

... In the short run, the two parties have run into an absurd standoff, where Republicans demand that President Obama produce an offer of higher spending cuts, and Obama replies that Republicans should say what spending cuts they want, and Republicans insist that Obama should try to guess what kind of spending cuts they would like. ... Republicans think government spending is huge, but they can’t really identify ways they want to solve that problem, because government spending is not really huge. That is to say, on top of an ideological gulf between the two parties, we have an epistemological gulf. 
There really isn’t money to be cut everywhere. The United States spends way less money on social services than do other advanced countries, and even that low figure is inflated by our sky-high health-care prices. The retirement benefits to programs like Social Security are quite meager. Public infrastructure is grossly underfunded. ... 
The Bowles-Simpson plan wound up punting on all the major questions because it simply couldn’t bridge that gulf between perception and reality.... 
It’s true that Paul Ryan’s budget plan had some deep cuts. But none of those cuts touched Medicare for the next decade or Social Security at all. Ryan just kicked the crap out of the poor. So, that provision aside, if you’re not willing to inflict epic levels of suffering on the very poor, there just aren’t a lot of cuts to be had out there.  
When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there’s just not much money to save. ... The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren’t there because they can’t be found.
It boils down to this: the only reconciliations Rs find ideologically acceptable are those that hurt the people most in need. Defense cuts are off the table. Raising taxes on the wealthy is off the table. (On the middle class, well, maybe not.) As I've said a million times, what Rs want will gut our future in the name of making sure the very wealthy have a present. That's fact, not hyperbole. And thus, as we've seen, they'd like us to believe it's Obama who's not serious when he proposes ways (piddling as they might be) to maintain a floor under our future. And they'd like us to focus on Benghazi, claiming their questions haven't been answered, when they have.

 You can't get there from here without being willing to cut defense, make some qualifications in Medicare and Social Security (or, as Rs would like, eliminate them altogether, at which point it gets a lot easier), and significantly raising revenue. Returning tax rates on the wealthy to Clinton levels, alone, won't do it. At some point, at some level, it's gonna have to include us all. I think Obama needs to say that.

And I think Rs need to stop demagoguing defense spending cuts as treasonous, and stop claiming that we've become a "taker" society. Because both ideas are bullshit.

Here's another piece making the same point a little differently:
... Almost half a century ago, Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril argued that Americans as a whole were ideologically conservative but operationally liberal, meaning that in broad terms they like "small government," but when one gets specific it turns out they like almost everything government does, and want it to do even more of it. 
So what, specifically, can Republicans object to in the federal budget? Mitch McConnell has identified some "out-of-control Washington spending" that simply must be scaled back at this critical time: "Get this, taxpayers also just spent $325,000 on a robotic squirrel named robo-squirrel," the Kentucky Republican complained. ... 
Well there we go. If we can just get rid of $325,000 NSF education grants, then this budget mess could be all sorted out. ... what's McConnell's point here? That we're spending too much on science education? If so, he should say so. If his point is just that we spend a lot of money on unnecessary stuff, then there are a lot of much more germane examples than the squirrel. How about the budgetary Titanic that is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which over its lifetime will cost taxpayers more than a trillion dollars? And yes, that's trillion with a T. 
And there you have it: crapping on cars, and Benghazi. Oh. And same-sex marriage.

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