IS THE GOP BUDGET NAIVE ABOUT POLICY, POLITICS OR BOTH?

House Republicans have released the details behind their alternative budget proposal, and the numbers were about as well recieved as the budget/press release/tangential-notes-on-English-health-care issued last week. Here's Ross Douthat on the "naive opposition":

Sure, there may be some cynicism involved in how the Ryan proposal makes its numbers add up. But the overall outline - an across-the-board tax cut and a flatter tax code, substantial means-testing for Social Security and Medicare, and a five-year discretionary spending freeze - strikes me as the opposite of cynical. Rather, there's a kind of deep innocence about it: The purity of its small-government vision is more detached from the grubby realities of American politics than any similar document I can remember. It's as if the Democratic Party, in the aftermath of it's 2002 and 2004 defeats, had proposed an alternative to George W. Bush's wartime budgets that slashed defense spending dramatically, raised income taxes across the board, and invested all of the resulting revenue in a revivified AFDC, a massive cash grant to the UN, and a big new federal jobs program for "green-collar" workers, community organizers, and Planned Parenthood clinicians.

Stereotypes aside, that comparison works well to explain why the GOP budget is being met with a lot of derision and criticism. But Douthat's overall point -- that the Republicans aren't trying to craft a persuasive message but instead simply naive policy ideologues -- isn't right. Here's House Minority Leader John Boehner a few weeks ago:

“We are not in the majority. We are not kind-of in the minority; we are in a hole. They ought to get the idea out of their minds that they are legislators. But what they can be is communicators.”

This budget isn't a naive attempt at policy-making, it's a naive attempt at messaging, which makes it all the worse.

-- Tim Fernholz

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