Border Security And the Budget Dilemma

by Jonathan Chait | February 21, 2011

House Republicans have been describing their $61 billion in cuts to the domestic discretionary budget a down payment, merely a start, and so on. But then you see that they've cut even programs like border security, which they see as utterly vital:

For instance, the bill would cut at least $272 million in border security and immigration enforcement, including fencing and surveillance technology. A Democratic analysis shows this would scale back the number of agents patrolling the Mexican border from 21,370 to 20,500.

A couple points here. First, Republicans almost surely made cuts like this (and others to things like cancer research) in the assumption they wouldn't come to pass. Democrats control the Senate and White House, there will be negotiations, so Republicans can make cuts they don't want to actually take place and still retain support from their base.

But second, this shows again how utterly at odds with reality the conservative view of the budget is. There just is not a lot of waste to be found. Republicans like to say they've just made a first step, but if the first step means weakening the government function they've been demanding to strengthen, then you have to wonder how many other steps there could be.

Most of what government does is either necessary, popular, or both. Now, people don't understand that -- they think there are huge savings in foreign aid, welfare, and useless bureaucracy. Republicans can win power by appealing to popular misunderstandings of the budget, but actually implementing a program on the basis of a misunderstanding of reality is quite hard.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/83878/border-security-and-the-budget-dilemma