Columns / Discourse / January 12, 2011

Voice of Reason: Budget hypocrisy

In the aftermath of the Republican landslide victory in November, an observer from space would hear every newly elected Congressman and their grandmother calling for the government’s budget to be put into order, and expect that the new Congress will make this its priority. Anyone who is not an alien and actually expects this to happen is seriously naïve about how this nation’s political process actually works.

The best place to start is the center of the Republican counter-revolution: health care reform. The Republicans have claimed that it would cost the government hundreds of billions of dollars and must therefore be repealed. A reasonable enough claim, except that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has recently stated that a repeal of the so-called ObamaCare would cost the government some $230 billion dollars. Faced with this evidence, our alien friend would then logically expect that the deficit hawks would line up to oppose repeal. Instead, we have newly elected Speaker of the House Jay Boehner pledging to do whatever he can to stop health care reform from being fully implemented. It almost goes without saying the Republicans have not been directly faulting the CBO report, instead contenting themselves making empty statements such as House Majority leader Eric Cantor’s statement that “We know that the ObamaCare Bill, it costs too much.” As comforting as such unfounded assertions may be to some voters, any party seriously committed to cutting the budget needs to listen when non-partisan sources show ways to cut over $200 billion from it.

Since the Republicans are unwilling to make serious progress on health care or entitlement cutting (and since Boehner has pledged his cutting will avoid seniors, which means the bloated hydra known as Social Security will remain untouched yet again), that leaves one place to make cuts that could make all their campaign rhetoric worth something: the military. Conveniently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recently proposed $78 billion in cuts that would really do little more than stop future growth in defense spending. Our visitor from outer space would reason that this small step would be an excellent place to save some money and still leave us spending more than the rest of the world combined on our armed forces. What our visitor would instead see was Republican Todd Arkin, head of the Sea Power subcommittee of the House Armed Forces committee, seriously asserting Obama was using this plan to secretly eliminate the Marines while most other Republicans sit around making various claims which are mostly variations of “we’re at war so we can’t save money on the military.” Ignoring the fact that the cuts don’t touch appropriations for Iraq or Afghanistan, it seems our politicians live in a dream world where the only problem with our wars is that we’re just not spending enough money on them, instead of subjecting all of our expenditures to criticism, including those that liberals proposed cutting first.

But surely it is those tricky Democrats and their massive stimulus package that caused the problem in the first place. That would be a valid criticism if the Republicans had not recently agreed to a tax cut package that would constitute over $700 billion in new deficit spending that was defended as necessary to keep our economy going. The only real difference is that the Republicans didn’t use the word stimulus. Not that the Democrats seized the opportunity to point this out, instead happily joining with their enemies in spending money that doesn’t exist to revive that most critical sector of the economy: their chances at getting re-elected. Indeed, it seems as if the only thing that can really unite our politicians is a mutual agreement to spend money we don’t have. Perhaps one day our politicians will promise to reduce the deficit and then act on their promises based on the best available evidence without ideological blinders. For now, I see no reason for my imaginary alien to return home with anything but despair at that ever happening.

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