Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nose Cuttings

It's a rather interesting dilemma, the Republican leadership faces in the Congress:
Congressional Republicans are grappling with dissent within the party's ranks over the size and scope of proposed reductions as they seek to fulfill a campaign promise to slash the federal budget.

The Republican Party's conservative wing has proposed even deeper and potentially more controversial cuts than the GOP's leaders have prescribed — or believe are politically feasible this year. Prospects for reductions in cancer research or the
FBI, for example, are causing consternation within the party and controversy in Washington.

The party's leadership already has scaled back a goal of $100 billion in spending cuts in the current budget year, a figure Republicans promised during last year's midterm election campaign. But conservative Republicans are insisting on cuts nearly twice as deep — reaching to $2.5 trillion over 10 years. Party leaders do not believe such cuts are politically or practically achievable.
On the one hand, the "movement" that got them where they are, the Teabaggers, ran and won mostly on anger at spending. Justifying their existence by calling George W Bush a liberal in conservative's clothes, they railed not only against the Obama administration (although it took the brunt of the anger) but also at Republicans who kow-towed to the huge increases in spending that past Republican administrations (both Bushes and Reagan, in other words) have lobbied for and won.
(Clinton somehow managed to avoid being tarred with this brush, mostly because he actually cut spending in his eight years. It's just a surprise to me that the spinners of the right wing novel couldn't figure out a way to lie about him. )
On the other hand, there are any number of Republicans who will be answerable to their constituents if budgets are cut too deeply. Cancer research, for example, and the FBI are both areas I can imagine citizens will sit up and notice.
Even defense, which spreads so much pork that Congresscritters get trichinosis (hat tip Phil Gramm), is not immune from the chopping block, although I wonder how much of that stance is performance art.
Here's the thing: the second you exempt Social Security and Medicare (remember the Teabaggers infamous claim "Keep the government out of my Medicare!"?) and defense from spending cuts, and once you've tinkered with interest on the debt, you've effectively left yourself with about $3 trillion in programs, many mandated by statute, to cut. Cut $2.5 trillion out of that, and you can kiss farm subsidies goodbye, along with any effective program for dealing with the homeless, highway funds...in fact, any of the most visible and popular spending programs go by the wayside.
One tactic Democrats could counter with is telling the truth: the spending we did on TARP and other bailouts has generated a profit for the US economy and the government coffers. Estimates range up to $30 billion which, on a program of $800 billion, is about a 4% profit. Considering you'd have to buy 30 year T-bills to get that kind of return on any government issued investment, that's not small potatoes. Indeed, many public sector companies would marvel at a net profit margin of 4%.
To be honest, I'm astounded that the Democrats, particularly the Obama people, have been so ham-handed in this term with presenting and marketing their policies as good for the country. They've allowed the dialogue to slip away and to be controlled by people who are, at the very least, hostile towards anything Democrats might stand for.
It's sad that the best hope this nation has is intraparty squabbling distracting the Republicans so that the Democrats can push through reasonable compromises and peel off some GOP votes.
But that's the hand they allowed themselves to be dealt.