JONATHAN CHAIT NOVEMBER 17, 2010
Cato's Michael Tanner flays Republicans for the meagerness of their budget savings:
[S]ince the election, Republican leaders have been busy “clarifying” that promise. It now seems that they didn’t actually mean that they would roll back all federal spending to 2008 levels, just domestic, discretionary spending. Entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare are off the table, as is defense spending. Homeland security and veterans’ programs would also be spared any cuts. Removing those categories, along with interest on the debt, exempts 83 percent of the budget from any serious cuts. Rolling back the remaining spending to 2008 levels would save barely $100 billion, 2.8 percent of federal spending. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with our $1.3 trillion deficit.
Tanner omits any mention of the fact that Republican-endorsed tax cuts would increase the deficit by far more than the spending cuts would reduce it, in keeping with conservative movement policy of refusing to acknowledge the fiscal effects of tax cuts. Still, tanner's analysis is correct as far as it goes -- the Republican plan to confine spending cuts to domestic discretionary spending is indeed pathetically small in proportion to the scale of the deficit.
But then Tanner concludes with a political warning:
In the run-up to the election, Republicans constantly reassured voters that they understood how they had “lost their way” during the Bush era. If we gave them one more chance, they would leave their big-spending days behind them. Faced with the fiscal nightmare of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda, voters reluctantly gave the car keys back to the Republicans. It’s very early, of course, but if Republicans hope to earn and keep that trust, they are going to have to demonstrate that they are a lot more serious about cutting spending than they have shown us thus far.
This is standard right-wing budget doggerel.
Republican politicians have lost their way, they must hew to the right-wing path or they will be turned out by the voters. It fails to explain why, save the eternal blandishments of Washington, Republicans would settle for such meager budget savings in defiance of their political self-interest. Could it be that voters do not want to cut actual government programs? Why yes, it could. From Eric Cantor's memo to Congressional Republicans:
Fast Fact: Over two-thirds of Republican voters believe the budget can be balanced without reducing spending on Social Security or Medicare.
Right. They're totally misinformed about this. Moreover, they believe this in part because Republicans spent two years attacking Democrats for threatening entitlements.
Anyway, Republicans have the same dilemma as before. They can slash entitlement spending and incur the wrath of the voters. Or they can fail to address the deficit, or -- more likely -- make the deficit worse by cutting taxes. And then the conservative movement can explain that they failed because they lost their way, and the cycle can continue.