What’s really at stake in the budget fight

Great intro to Wonkbook today by Ezra Klein.  I’ll save you the link, just read this.  Seriously.

With John Boehner fighting the Democrats’ offer to put entitlements and taxes on the table — “that’s what the next budget process is for,” he said — it’s worth stepping back to look at what this continuing resoution fight is about.

It’s not about reducing the deficit. If it was, then the tax deal wouldn’t have passed in December, entitlements would’ve been in the mix from the beginning, tax expenditures and defense spending would be on the table, etc. Nor is it about cutting spending. If it was, then the cuts wouldn’t be limited to 12 percent of the budget. Rather, it’s about cutting non-defense discretionary spending.

But most Americans don’t know that. Boehner frequently says that “the American people want us to cut spending,” but he never says that “the American people want us to cut non-defense discretionary spending.” And that’s because they don’t: poll after poll has found Americans resistant to the sort of cuts you find in the non-defense discretionary bucket, which focus on education, worker retraining, nutrition programs, heating-oil subsidies, etc. They’d much prefer tax increases on the rich, or cuts to defense.

But Republicans wouldn’t prefer tax increases on the rich, or cuts to defense spending. And they know that if entitlements get opened up, tax increases will immediately be on the table — one of the easiest and most popular ways to cut Social Security’s shortfall is to lift the cap on payroll taxes. But for Republicans at this moment in time, that’s unthinkable. The beauty of focusing on non-defense discretionary spending is that it’s spending they don’t really like and that’s totally disconnected from any sort of tax. And that gets to what this debate is really about: not cutting spending or reducing the deficit, but cutting spending Republicans don’t like while avoiding any and all tax increases — even if that means the country has higher deficits and the middle- and working-class bear more of the burden. The difficulty for Republicans is they’ve not wanted to clearly explain that philosophy to the American people, and so now they’re in the odd position of arguing against Democratic efforts to do more for the deficit and do more to cut spending but not really being able to say why they oppose those efforts.

 

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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