Compromise is often an unhappily revealing art. “Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are,” the philosopher Avishai Margalit writes. In finding compromises with Republicans on the federal budget, Democrats need to remember not only who they are but who the voters depend on them to be.
This is a story about the deficit scolds who substitute attitude for argument and how they use the public’s ignorance about the federal budget to their advantage.
It comes from sparring over the House Republican budget, which Republicans claim will achieve a balanced budget within ten years, and Barack Obama’s budget, which he will be submitting to Congress this week. Neither gets us to a zero deficit. The White House spin has been that balancing the budget isn’t an important goal by itself—deficits, surpluses, or balance are only means to the end of a growing economy or creating jobs. In line with that thinking, last week White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said, “You don’t want to balance the budget for the purposes of just balancing the budget.”
“Our biggest problems over the next ten years are not deficits,” the president told House Republicans Wednesday, according to those who attended the meeting. The president needs to deliver the same message to the public, loudly and clearly. The biggest problems we face are unemployment, stagnant wages, slow growth, and widening inequality—not deficits. The major goal must be to get jobs and wages back, not balance the budget. Paul Ryan’s budget plan—essentially, the House Republican plan—is designed to lure the White House and Democrats, and the American public, into a debate over how to balance the federal budget in ten years, not over whether it’s worth doing.
As he has in years past, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan presented his latest budget as a necessary step—the only thing we have to avert a destructive debt crisis. It may be painful to turn Medicare into a voucher program, cut spending on social services, and devolve Medicaid into a block grant for the states, but it's the only choice we have to avoid catastrophe. Here's Ryan in his own words:
When Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan ran for vice president last year, he campaigned against the $716 billion Medicare cut in the Affordable Care Act, calling it a "raid" on the program. "Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for 'Obamacare,'" said Ryan last August, after joining the Romney campaign, "Medicare should be used to be the promise that it made to our current seniors. Period. End of Story."
President Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda.
There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell.
At the moment, the hot issue of the 2012 presidential campaign is Medicare, with the Obama and Romney campaigns trading charges and counter-charges over the health-insurance program for the elderly. Since we at the Prospect love clarifying the muddy and making the complex understandable, we thought we'd unpack the arguments the two sides are making and provide some context so we can all grasp this a bit better. We'll start with the campaigns' claims.
Does Mitt Romney actually want to "end Medicare as we know it"?
That's the charge Democrats are now making; here's a video the Obama campaign just released:
If you’ve been following the news, chances are you have heard of “sequestration” by now. Everyone in national security—from the Pentagon to Congress to industry to the think tanks—seems to agree that the spending cuts would be a menace that deserves to be squelched. But is it?
This is something that other people have mentioned, and Jamelle brings up in his extremely helpful post about Paul Ryan, but it really needs to be emphasized: Paul Ryan is not a "deficit hawk." No matter how many times the news media tell us, it doesn't make it true. As I've said before, you can't call yourself a deficit hawk if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway. Show me someone who's willing to cut programs he favors (Ryan isn't), and would actually take potentially painful measures to balance the budget (Ryan wouldn't), and that's a deficit hawk. Ryan, on the other hand, is a conservative ideologue who couches what Newt Gingrich appropriately called "right-wing social engineering" in a lot of talk about making tough choices. But I've never actually seen Paul Ryan make a "tough" choice, at least one that was tough for him. There's nothing "tough" about a conservative Republican who tells you he wants to slash Medicare and Medicaid, increase defense spending, and cut taxes for the wealthy. That's like Homer Simpson telling you he's making the tough choice to skip the salad and eat three dozen donuts instead.
But oh boy, have the media ever bought into the idea of Ryan as the courageous budget-cutter...
In a new poll, Gallup asks voters to rank their priorities for the next president. Unsurprisingly, the top answer is “jobs,” followed by “reducing corruption in the federal government,” and “reducing the federal budget deficit.” Here are the full results:
Writing at the Washington Examiner, Byron York cites this as evidence that the Obama campaign is out of step with the public:
Yesterday afternoon at the National Press Club (the standard Washington venue for events that need a little class), the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget—a bipartisan debt-reduction group—rolled out its “Fix the Debt” campaign, an attempt to push deficit reduction to the top of the congressional priority list. It's hard to overstate the extent to which this was an almost stereotypical gathering of Beltway deficit scolds.