Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Feb/11

15

The 2012 budget: A BS-detector

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Why doesn’t President Obama call the Republicans’ bluff?  His 2012 budget ducks any significant entitlement cuts, and ignores the recommendations of his bipartisan deficit commission.  Obama’s budget director explains that the administration is not willing to make the first move into politically risky terrain.  But why not propose meaningful entitlement reform and force the Republicans to take a stand?  If Republican-Tea Party rhetoric of fiscal responsibility is mere posturing, a fiscally responsible Democratic plan would force Republicans into the awkward position of arguing against reform that they have paid constant lip service to.  But if they truly do mean to rein in entitlement spending, they would (in theory) go along with an Obama proposal to make cuts and would share the political heat.   (Of course, Obama himself may not have the slightest interest in cutting the entitlement juggernaut, but still, he has before him a wonderful opportunity to put Republican political rhetoric to the test.)

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib notes a Pew Research Center poll that suggests that the public ranting over big government is all a show.  Only 12% of those polled this month want to cut Medicare or Social Security spending.   Looks like the Tea Party has its work cut out for it, assuming that its members are not part of that 12%.

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18 comments

  • Polichinello · February 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    But if they truly do mean to rein in entitlement spending, they would (in theory) go along with an Obama proposal to make cuts and would share the political heat.

    In a two-party system Obama putting forward the Tea Party proposals (even Simpson-Bowles) would effectively eliminate the political heat. The Democrats couldn’t attack the GOP for cuts that Obama himself suggested. They could try to go into the nuances, but that doesn’t work well in our age of sound bites. Basically, it would undo the left side of the argument in the same way Clinton undid the left with welfare reform. Granted, welfare reform was a more popular cause, but the dynamic is the same.

  • Constant · February 15, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    “the public ranting over big government is all a show. Only 12% of those polled this month want to cut Medicare or Social Security spending.”

    The public ranting is over the recent surge in spending and government expansion – specifically, the 2008 bailout, the 2009 stimulus, and Obamacare. Medicare and Social Security are not the triggers, not the targets.

    Now, some people are aware that Medicare and Social Security are big problems. But they’re not particularly visible problems. After all, we’ve had Social Security and medicare for many decades, some of them bad, some of them good. So it’s not obvious to the man in the street observer that Medicare and Social Security are problems (though they are). The big noise on both sides has been about the bailouts, the stimulus spending, and Obamacare. These are what everybody is focused on. These are what those who want to turn back the clock (i.e. the Tea Party) are focused on.

    The Tea Party aren’t the libertarian party. They are not ideological foes of non-minimal-state. They are ordinary people who are alarmed by the recent visible developments.

  • eli · February 16, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Simple answers to direct questions:

    “Why doesn’t President Obama call the Republicans’ bluff?”

    Because it would be political suicide.

    ‘Big government’ is actually deeply popular to people who receive the benefit. These people are much more numerous than the 25-30% that make of the fox news right. Think of the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” crowd. Opposition to ‘Obamacare’ would be hollow and insubstantial if not for the duplicitous sniping from the right about its trimming of medicare. Older Americans oppose the bill largely because they were responsive to attacks from the right that Obama was REDUCING big government intervention that they adore.

    He IS calling their bluff. When they propose greater cuts, they will be torched in 2012 for those positions. Abstract complaining about “Big Government” may play ok to a lightly informed public, but direct cuts to the supports they depend on will provoke massive backlash. GW Bush’s annihilation on Social Security SHOULD have been massively popular if getting the government out of people’s lives. They don’t really want to be on their own. Because that only works well for the well off. Most of us aren’t.

  • eli · February 16, 2011 at 1:04 am

    An edited, and slightly more elaborate version here:
    http://www.waspinabottle.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=118&action=edit&message=1

  • RandyB · February 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Failing do deal with non-discretionary spending (entitlements and defense/security) is our modern equivalent of the 1840-50s, when avoiding dealing with slavery gave us seven Presidents in 20 years. But in our case it’s not Presidents who will change too often, but Congresses. The lack of ideological breadth within the parties will make it impossible to effect sensible compromise on health care, entitlements, and defense, when everyone thinks they can win by pointing out how much worse the other side is.

  • Pithlord · February 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    You are certainly entitled to call out Obama’s cowardice or criticize him on the merits, but I doubt he’s wrong about the politics. Like most electorates, the American people want fiscal discipline in the abstract, but their revealed preference is for continued profligacy.

  • Pithlord · February 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Constant,

    The Tea Party are old white people who want lots of welfare state for themselves combined with a juicy feeling of moral superiority to those in opposed coalitions. That just makes them human.

  • Polichinello · February 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    The Tea Party are old white people who want lots of welfare state for themselves…

    Yeah, and they’re the racists. Gotcha.

  • Pithlord · February 18, 2011 at 12:11 am

    I didn’t say the Tea Party were racists. There is zero evidence they want to attack Medicare or Social Security, at least for the incumbent generation, which makes them hypocrites.

  • vhh · February 18, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Heather–Your argument might make sense in a society where the two parties recognize a shared responsibility to govern. But boy you have a short memory. It was only a few years ago that GOP leaders were pushing health insurance mandates and exchanges to make the (private) insurance market more national and competitive. The ACA plan has all these elements, and is a huge boost for private insurance companies. And one GOP governor, Romnney, implemented such a plan in Mass (where life is in fact going on more or less as before). And did this call the GOP’s bluff? Did they say “hey, we’ll support you in implementing our ideas.” No, they screamed “death panels” and swore to “protect Medicare” (from being taken over by the govt, I guess). And they ran on this and won the House. To do anything useful, a politician has to first be elected. That is why Obama is maneuvering to have the GOP broach the issue of reducing entitlements.

  • Sheldon · February 18, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Heather, I agree with Eli on the politics, but beyond that the problem with doing what you suggest is that you can’t get there reasonably just with benefits cuts; you need significant tax increases as well. All that would happen if Obama came out with the full package of entitlement cuts and tax increases is that the Republicans would fight him on the tax increases and push for even more cuts. He would have opened the door to benefit slashes without getting anything in return. Not a good place to be. I think a much better strategy would be almost the opposite of what you suggest: explain to the public just how much the Bush tax cuts are contributing to the deficit and tell the Republicans if they accepted the return to the Clinton tax rates he would agree to entitlement cuts to eliminate the rest of the deficit. That would put into relief the fact that it is the tax cuts which, if left unchanged, would necessitate draconian and unpopular entitlement reductions.

  • rforce · February 18, 2011 at 3:35 am

    There was no recommendation from the bipartisan deficit commission. The recommendation ginned up by the co-chairs failed to get the required number of votes. All three Republican House members, including Paul Ryan, voted against it.

  • Jester · February 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

    “a fiscally responsible Democratic plan would force Republicans into the awkward position of arguing against reform that they have paid constant lip service to.”
    I think you’re seeing a different Republican party than I am. Any potential awkwardness would be overcome by utterly shameless lying as they explain that, yes, the nation’s finances need to be fixed, but X, Y, and Z means they can’t do it the way Obama wants them to, because that would mean [insert contrived non-issue here]

    “But if they truly do mean to rein in entitlement spending, they would (in theory) go along with an Obama proposal to make cuts and would share the political heat.”
    No, they wouldn’t. Because Obama was the one who made the first move they’d be able to paint him as the driving force behind the government’s plot to rob granny of her social security. We all know they’ll do it. I’d do it in their shoes.

  • Polichinello · February 18, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I didn’t say the Tea Party were racists.

    Maybe not, but you were using a racial description to marginalize them. Imagine the hue and cry if an opposite number had said “Blacks and Mexicans were taking tax dollars for welfare out of their proportion to the population.”

    As far as dealing with Social Security and Medicare, that will have to be dealt with, but it really can’t be done until we deal with the mammoth increases in spending brought on over the last two to three years, under both Bush and Obama. It was the huge TARP and stimulus packages (which was really a payoff to Democratic consituencies) that started the Tea Party protests. Obamacare was just more grist for the mill. So, yeah, the GOP will have to deal with the big entitlements, but before they tackle that K2 sized challenge, it makes sense to go after the more low-hanging fruit. It also puts the president in a corner. Why should anyone go along with more tax increases when the government is just going to waste that money hiring more AFSCME chair-warmers and buying toy-train boondoggles?

    When Obama agrees to cut spending back to 2007 levels and proposes serious entitlement reforms–then, and then only–should any tax increase request be taken seriously.

  • Pithlord · February 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    TARP made money. Obamacare cut Medicare (albeit not enough for long-term stability), and that’s what pissed off the Tea Party.

    I don’t have a problem with going after what you describe as low-hanging fruit, but I have a problem with encouraging magic thinking where tiny cuts in the federal budget that piss off your cultural opponents solve problems they can’t solve. That’s the old Cheney “Reagan repealed scarcity and original sin” style of identity politics Pelagainism that has characterized the Republican coalition since I was ten years old.

  • Polichinello · February 18, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    TARP made money.

    Only if you accept a lot of sleight of hand tricks. It was like GM claiming to have paid back the government in that silly ad.

    Obamacare cut Medicare (albeit not enough for long-term stability), and that’s what pissed off the Tea Party.

    No, that’s not what set off the Tea Party. There’s some unattributed story floating around about a lady saying “Keep the government away from Medicare”, and the lefty echo chamber has been beating that drum time and again.

    To the degree that Medicare cuts are an irritant, it’s because people who’ve paid into the system are now finding the money they paid into being diverted to support a program run by and made up of Obama’s varied private and public sector cronies.

    I don’t have a problem with going after what you describe as low-hanging fruit, but I have a problem with encouraging magic thinking where tiny cuts in the federal budget that piss off your cultural opponents solve problems they can’t solve.

    No one serious has pretended that entitlements aren’t a problem. You’re creating a strawman here, indeed, a crude caricature of your opponents. However, you have a stand-off between the divided branches of government, both of whom have differing philosophies. So for the next two years, it make sense to cut the smaller discretionary items, and even that isn’t easy as a majority of the GOP caucus doesn’t so far have the salt to go to $100 billion.

    I’m sure not up for a tax increase when money is still being funneled down a number of ratholes. Get that taken care of and then it will make some political sense to debate how much we’ll cut out of retirement bennies and increase taxes.

  • cynthia curran · February 19, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Well, Bush wanted the native born population to have social secuirty reform but he was going to allow hispanics imirgnsts whether illegal or legal to be able to collect SS and that means since many of them make under 50,000 a year they would be getting governmetn SS not private investments.

  • Anthony · February 19, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Politically, the best course for Obama would be to propose some minor adjustments to entitlement programs, and call them “significant cuts necessary to stabilize the programs for decades to come”; then challenged the Republicans to pass some tax increases to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Either the Republicans would go along with the minor cuts while furiously opposing the tax increases, letting Obama get credit for “saving Medicare”, or they’d get into a MEGO argument over just how much needed to be cut from Medicare, and look like heartless bastards for trying to cut poor people’s Medicare while taking heat from rich old people (who tend to vote Republican) for allowing any cuts to anyone’s Medicare.

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