Tag Archives: Budget

When David Brooks Gets Angry…

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been criticial of folks accross the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until today.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier. 

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the reprocussions of compromising.  Brooks slap accross the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consquences for going crazy.  There have been consquences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

…and David Brooks as Martin Luther

David Frum points to David Brook’s “withering column” on the GOP and notes that the public will not only blame the President for this mess, but will also look to the GOP as well:

Republicans in Congress need to understand that there will be a political price to them, not only to the president, if they force the United States into reneging on its contracted obligations. They need to hear that message from inside, from donors and supporters. That’s not a “pro-Obama” message as some hot-heads charge. It’s a pro “full faith and credit” message. The Obama program can (and in large measure should) be repealed. But default is not an acceptable tool of politics.

Brooks’ column is a manifesto for the times, it should be nailed to the Republican equivalent of the church door at Wittenberg.

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Whenever I start talking about issues regarding the budget, I tend to get a few responses that go like this: the Democrats are pragmatic and the Republicans are crazy.

I tend to roll my eyes when I hear that because I tend to think it’s too simplistic and tends to look at any and all political issues in a black and white viewpoint.  I like to believe life is a lot more complicated than that. That, and most of the folks that are saying this seem to be hard partisans that will always find the other side as crazy while they are rational and sane.

While I don’t think the entire GOP is nuts, there is always a bit of truth in everything.  There are those in the GOP who I think are able to control the debate when it comes to the budget.  They have turned tax policy into a religion and not in a good way.

David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for basically squandering a perfect opportunity to get control of federal spending.  As Brooks notes in today’s column, the GOP has in many ways “won” the debate on spending and has forced the Democrats’ hand when it comes to the budget.

But instead of declaring victory and making a deal which would include closing tax expenditures and maybe even raising taxes, the party has not budged from its “no-taxes” stance, risking the federal government to default in a month’s time. Here’s what Brooks notes about the GOP.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

Brooks pretty much tears the GOP a new one for not acting like a political party that makes deals and instead like a protest movement that doesn’t allow for any compromise.

And he’s correct in doing so.

Politics is and has always been a mix of compromise and principle.  It’s one thing to talk use ideology as a governing framework to guide oneself in a democratic society.  It’s is another thing to use ideology as something to hide behind, to keep yourself from governing and representing the people.

What the GOP is being asked to do is to accept closing some tax loopholes and subsidies.  Yes, that would mean “taxes would rise.” But really, are we talking about raising rates back to the Eisenhower era of 9o some percent?  No.

What this comes down to is what the GOP wants to be in the next few years.  It can choose to be a governing political party that accepts compromise and takes into account that there is another political party that they have to deal with, or it can choose to be a protest movement that doesn’t care as much about governing than it does getting accross it’s ideological message.  It can’t be both.

Republicans have an opportunity to make more inroads in 2012.  They actually might have a chance to win the White House.  But if the party chooses ideological conformity over responsible governing, they can expect to see those chances slip away.  As David Brooks says at the end of his column:

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Indeed.

Soak the Middle Class!

Via Reihan Salam, is a 2009 article by Matthew Yglesias where the liberal writer makes the case for raising taxes not simply on the rich, but also on the middle class.  He took President Obama to task for talking about raising taxes on the rich, but not on the not-so-rich:

To some, Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign points the way out of the box. As Obama described his plan while debating Sen. John McCain, “If you make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year, your taxes will not go up; if you make less than $200,000 a year, your taxes will go down.” In other words, there’s no reason to fear tax hikes because you won’t be paying them — someone else will.

Obama did not change the framework so much as find a way to survive within it. A platform of no tax increases for the bottom 95 percent can win elections, but it reinforces rather than debunks the right’s fundamental view of the tax question — that public services aren’t worth paying for — and merely suggests that the correct answer is to get someone else to pay for them. This is, to be sure, better than the alternative, which is to provide no public services at all. And amid a cataclysmic recession, there are sound macroeconomic reasons to eschew any kind of tax increase until recovery is underway. Still, it’s hard to see how a long-term progressive agenda can be financed with the revenues raised through this method.

Yglesias wants to raise taxes accross the board to fund an agressive progressive agenda. While I don’t think we need to have a Great Society II and I think Yglesias gets a bit tax happy, I do think he’s right that in the future taxes will have to rise- not to fund the new agenda he was talking about, but to keep our current social programs viable and to keep us out of debt.

When it comes to taxes, the Right doesn’t want to raise taxes at all and the Left wants to pretend it can get all it needs by taxing the super-rich.  But both are living in some kind of dreamworld and the American middle class is even farther down the rabbit hole. 

When it comes to the budget and deficits, the American public say they want small government, but we want it cheap and we want the top of the line.  We live with rose-colored glasses and the politicians follow suit.

But if we are serious about taming the deficit and making entitlements like Social Security and Medicare sustainable, we are going to have to things that no one, and I mean no one will like: raising taxes and cutting spending. Yes, we can pretend that we can balance the budget just on cuts, but as Megan McArdle says, that’s just living in a Tea Party make-believe bubble.

This also means that we in the middle class are going to have learn to pay our way.  That probably means a combonation of lower benefits and might taxes.  We want to believe we can get something for nothing.  Sorry.  You want your Medicare?  You gotta pay to play.

Sure, let’s raise taxes.  But then everybody save the very poor have to chip in.  The free ride is over.

The Ryan Budget

These days, I tend to get a little intimidated by all the super-smart bloggers who can spew all these facts and stats when it comes to budgetary issues.  So, I’m never going to be the next Ezra Klein or Tyler Cowen, but I can at least give a basic layman’s view on Paul Ryan’s plan on the budget.

At first glance, I think it’s pretty good.  One of my chief complaints with Republicans is that they either don’t have a realistic budgetary plan or most of their plans are just slash and burn without any purpose.  Ryan’s plan does have a lot of slashing of budgets, but I think he at least tries to keep the safety net somewhat intact.  For those on the Left like Klein and E.D. Kain, anything that changes the current understandings of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid is basically throwing the old and the poor on the street.  I don’t think it has to be that way.  I think some of the criticism about privatising Medicare by giving people vouchers is valid (it doesn’t at least on the surface try to rein in costs).  That said, it is a starting point and it’s good to see a Republican come up with an innovative idea.  I also think that while Ryan is willing to “go there” when it comes to entitlements, folks like Kain are correct in saying that the military also needs to be reigned in. 

Which leads me to a side issue.  David Brooks notes in his column today that America needs to re-envision its welfare state.  The system we have in place for the most part has been the system we have had for 50-70 years.  We are pushing the limits of the old welfare state model.  It’s becoming unsustainable.  This means that we have to create a new social contract that can carry this nation forward.  I think Ryan’s proposals are a good starting point.

That said, we also need to take a good look at what some call the “warfare state.”  Our defense needs are based on what those needs were back in the 1950s.  The Cold War with the Russians has been over with for 20 years and we need to design a military for our current world.  That means a smaller footprint around the world when it comes to bases and troops and that means cuts.  The world still needs the United States to take part in military action when called for, but we can’t do it with a military designed for the “Red Dawn” era.

So that’s my simple take on the Ryan plan.  I’d like to hear others viewpoints.

Scott Brown vs. Tea Party

Scott Brown was elected to the Senate last year as a darling of the Tea Party.  Since then, they haven’t been that pleased with him because he turned out to be far moderate than they expected ( a moderate Republican from Massachusetts?  Who would have thought?)

He’s certainly not going to get love from the Tea Party for his latest act: blasting the GOP leadership and by extension, the Tea Party for “irresponsible cuts” that will hurt the poor.  Here’s some of what he said in a letter and also on the Senate floor:

Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, the House and Senate have been seeking common ground to finish the appropriations work for FY 2011.  Sadly, rather than reaching a workable, bi-partisan solution to responsibly address our staggering deficit, we are repeatedly given a false choice between CR proposals that either don’t go far enough to reduce federal spending and proposals that set the wrong priorities that would disproportionately affect low-income families and seniors, while doing little to address critical, long-term issues…

Our collective work begins by having a clear understanding of the seriousness of our budget crisis and what is at stake if we fail to address it.  We can all agree that we simply cannot continue on this reckless, unsustainable course.  Reducing and eliminating needless spending and programs are appropriate, but a wholesale reduction in spending, without considering economic, cultural, and social impacts is simply irresponsible. We must also be mindful that many of the proposed spending reductions would disproportionately affect the neediest among us, including housing and heating assistance.  Likewise, some of the proposed cuts would be economically counterproductive, negatively impacting our ability to innovate and invest in research and development.

Deficit reduction is a necessary goal for our country.  But deficit reduction should not be achieved in isolation of our priorities as a government and a society.  I believe that responsible and meaningful bi-partisan support must be found and forged if we are to achieve long-term fiscal stability.  I intend to be a part of the discussions and the solutions for how to move our country forward, without eliminating programs that are successful, cost-effective, or critical to the livelihood of the neediest among us.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky responded by paying homage to the Tea Party and their “fiscal bravery:”

“[T]hanks to ordinary Americans like these speaking their minds and advocating for common sense reforms, I’m increasingly confident we’ll get our fiscal house in order,” McConnell said of the tea party movement. “Republicans are determined to do our part.”

But none of what the Tea Party or the GOP leadership is advocating is common sense, not by a long shot.  Instead of tackling the big movers of the deficit: defense and entitlement programs, conservatives have made a big deal of cutting discretionary programs, which make up only 12 percent of the budget.  That’s not bravery, it’s cowardice and cynicism.
Brown is correct that the cuts offered hurt the neediest in our society more than anyone else.  This isn’t even about balancing the budget on the backs of the poor as the Left claims, it’s just cutting something just for the hell of it.
If Republicans want to tackle the deficit then they need to go after programs that the middle class enjoy (hello mortgage interest deduction).  We need to tackle Medicare and Social Security.  But of course, dealing with those would be bring the wrath of the middle classes, especially those Tea Partiers who want to cut programs for the poor, but doesn’t want Washington to touch their Medicare.
Brown will no doubt catch hell for his stand, but he continues to get my praise and support.

Rick Snyder: One Tough Fascist?

At least, that’s what one blogger from Lansing believes:

As much as I hoped it wouldn’t be the case last November. It appears that Governor Rick Snyder is nothing more than a velvet-gloved austerity whore hell bent on engineering an IMF-style economic dismantling of Michigan’s government and economy. It’s time for true liberals and conservatives to wake up and unite against the systematic destruction of Michigan’s economy, Constitution and rule of law.

Rick Snyder is not a Republican. He is not a nerd. . . . He is a fascist. And if his plan is implemented, the merging of corporate and state power – the essence of Mussolini-style fascism – will be complete. And no Michigander will be immune from the onslaught.

The Republican Waterloo?

About a year ago, David Frum said that the refusal of Republicans to negotiate with Dems on health care reform was their “Waterloo.” E.D. Kain argues that it wasn’t health care that will be the Waterloo for the GOP but the recent overreach by Republican governors:

In Wisconsin, Democrats are already promising to step-up recall efforts. But the recalls are only a small part of what is likely going to be a huge anti-Republican backlash across the nation, as working Americans finally realize what that party actually stands for: an playing field heavily tilted toward the rich and powerful, toward corporate power, and against worker rights…

…conservatives have chosen public-sector workers and teachers as their hill to die on. They have followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and elected Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and various other Tea Party candidates. Heavily funded by big campaign donors like the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, the Republican party has made a concerted effort across the country to take on unions, public pensions, and social services for the poor…

The healthcare debate gave Republicans a chance to capture the narrative, spin the entire debate into one about fiscal ruin and deficits. Now Scott Walker has given progressives their chance. This is the Democrats chance to recapture that narrative, to turn the discussion back to the dignity of the middle class, to the importance of policies that do not simply push power and capital ever upward. This is the Republican’s Waterloo.

So, what do you all think?  Is this the GOP Waterloo?  Will it galvanize Democrats and progressives in general?

An Example of “Make Everybody Hurt?”

Nick Goebel is impressed with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s brand of fiscal discipline:

Governor Snyder’s budget that he unveiled last week is a truly unique document in so many ways.  For one, it is an apolitical document that cuts from almost every constituency.  Unlike Republican Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Snyder did not just cut from political constituencies that are loyal to Democrats; he also took on loyal Republican constituencies.  For example, senior citizens could see their pensions taxed if Snyder’s budget is passed.  It is obvious that the Governor’s objective was not to score political points or protect political allies.  As Lt. Governor Brian Calley said, “Whenever people would get weak in the knees and offer a political answer about why not to do something,” Snyder would come back with, “What’s the right thing to do?”

This makes me wonder if Synder if following along the lines of what David Brooks said in an oped last week regarding dealing with state and federal budget issues: “Make Everybody Hurt.”  Brooks believes that budget cuts can only make sense if everyone’s sacred cow gets gored.  His belief is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s approach is too partisan: only attacking programs favored by Democrats or programs that don’t have a constituency to fight back.  His fellow Republican Synder, is willing to take on people who do vote, like his plan to tax retirees benefits in an effort to balance the budget.

I happened to be back in Michigan when Gov. Synder gave his State of the State address in January.  I thought it has some great ideas and the budget he came out with was fair-minded in my view. It will be interesting to see what approach will benefit the GOP over the long run: Walker’s go for the jugular tactic or Synder’s quiet diplomacy. Time will tell.