Monday, February 14, 2011


Paul Krugman on the GOP budget released Friday:

... The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts -- and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes -- and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?

The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren't immediate; basically, eat America's seed corn....

If you didn't understand that logic, you might be puzzled by many items in the House G.O.P. proposal. Why cut a billion dollars from a highly successful program that provides supplemental nutrition to pregnant mothers, infants, and young children? Why cut $648 million from nuclear nonproliferation activities? (One terrorist nuke, assembled from stray ex-Soviet fissile material, can ruin your whole day.) Why cut $578 million from the I.R.S. enforcement budget? (Letting tax cheats run wild doesn't exactly serve the cause of deficit reduction.)...

Well, yeah, that's true -- Republicans want to avoid causing their constituents obvious pain right now. But the key point about this list is that it's based on what's essentially a greatest-hits collection of right-wing resentments, going back even before Reagan and Limbaugh. Attack the IRS? The IRS used to be one of the top Antichrists of the right, and it's still pretty high on the charts. Food aid to the poor? Come on, it's been gospel on the right for decades that government is evil because it takes money from hardworking suburban and rural white people and gives it to impoverished urban nonwhites. (I'm just summarizing the thinking; it doesn't matter what percentage of white people actually receive these benefits, because angry right-wing whites think the percentage is zero -- and that includes whites who actually receive the benefits themselves.)

Nuclear proliferation? Republicans know that's been a great interest of Barack Obama since his days in the Senate -- obviously, whatever he favors, or any previous Democratic president favored, they're against it. An article about the GOP budget in Krugman's paper last week makes that abundantly clear:

Among 60 programs in line for elimination were the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and a $298 million Clinton-era program for hiring local police officers. Other planned cutbacks included nearly $900 million in energy conservation and efficiency programs; $1.8 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency; and $75 million from legal-aid programs. In a swipe at the administration, the bill would eliminate $5 billion in high-speed rail money.

AmeriCorps and money for cops? Signature projects of the hated Clinton. High-speed rail? Famously linked to Obama. Energy conservation, legal aid, EPA? Liberal, liberal, liberal. (Yeah, the EPA was founded under Nixon -- but still, he did it under pressure from all those damn hippies. Right? Right?)


By contrast, this is how President Obama goes about constructing a budget:

... In a move that is sure to anger Democrats from cold-weather states, the administration will propose cutting $2.5 billion from a program that helps low-income people pay their energy bills during periods of extreme weather.

... The budget will propose eliminating Pell grants for summer school, and making interest on federal loans for graduate students build up during school....

The budget will propose slashing a quarter of the government's funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative -- a move that will save $125 million....

Republicans pick cuts that will please their base. Obama looks at his base and says, "Screw it -- in 2012, who are they going to vote for? Republicans?" Polls say New England is solidly blue, so he thinks he can risk shafting New England and other cold-weather areas on heating assistance. Polls say young people still support him, so he can cut Pell grants. Many of the states that get grants under the Great Lakes initiative -- Illinois, New York, Michigan -- are states he probably thinks are in the bag in 2012. So that can get cut, too.

Republicans provide constituent service. Democrats provide the exact opposite.


By the way, I notice this in the budget:

The Obama budget again holds to the idea that we should extend the Bush tax cuts on all incomes up to $250,000, while letting the tax cuts over that expire.

That, of course, is after the temporary agreement that was reached in the lame-duck session expires. But, hell, if we're talking right now about budgeting for the long term, why not stress that idea of eliminating the tax cuts on the rich two years from now? I know it's not politically feasible. I know it can't pass a GOP House. But that kind of talk is what would happen if Democrats approached the budget the way Republicans do.

If that were the case, Democrats would make a great show of trying to raise taxes on the rich right now, even if the increases didn't take effect for two years. They'd do this to make the point that it's fiscally responsible -- and they'd do it to please their base. But Democrats just don't do politics the way Republicans do.

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