Amerika

The budget crisis

I never wanted to be a Republican. What an un-hip, stodgy, unpleasantly financial aura hovered around that word!

As I went on through life, I found out that I like consequentialist logic — results matter more than methods, in a nutshell — which put me on the Republican side. I liked and still like the practicality of it, and how it escapes the bad mental state of seeing oneself as a victim of life itself.

While the Republicans aren’t ideal, they let many disparate right-oriented groups gather under one “big tent” and work together. Since we who are anywhere near the right are a marginalized group since the Magna Carta, situational unity is important. Pick the best horse and ride it.

This recent budget crisis and threatened government shutdown reveals what the Republicans aren’t good at, however: they have zero knowledge about how to manage a publicity campaign based on spin.

Sure, they’re good at explaining necessary actions like wars, but those explanations assume their audience is rational and not wholly biased against them already. What Republicans cannot do is make anything hip, fun or aesthetically sensible.

But Republicans aren’t putting out press releases about government programs that escaped the ax. They’re all about the sea change in Washington’s approach to spending since the GOP took control of the House.

“Never before has Congress made dramatic cuts such as those that are in this final legislation,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a statement Tuesday. “The nearly $40 billion reduction in non-defense spending is nearly five times larger than any other cut in history, and is the result of this new Republican majority’s commitment to bring about real change in the way Washington spends the people’s money.”

In fact, the House committee scored the bill as cutting $39.9 billion in spending compared with the fiscal year 2010 budget. In the estimation of Senate appropriators, the cuts came to $38.5 billion. – CSM

We’re talking about a $3.5 trillion expenditure, and they’ve trimmed $40 billion. That’s not very substantial.

Republicans would do better if they had their backs against a wall, and could actually get radical, and trim what they want to:

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid expenditures are funded by permanent appropriations and so are considered mandatory spending. Social Security and Medicare are sometimes called “entitlements,” because people meeting relevant eligibility requirements are legally entitled to benefits, although most pay taxes into these programs throughout their working lives. Some programs, such as Food Stamps, are appropriated entitlements. Some mandatory spending, such as Congressional salaries, is not part of any entitlement program. Mandatory spending accounted for 53% of total federal outlays in FY2008, with net interest payments accounting for an additional 8.5%. – Google Group Blog

This is what the Republican audience — conservatives of all stripes — want cut. We are OK with large military investment, and some charity, but not this across-the-board entitlement state.

On the other hand are those who want the entitlement state. They want it because they believe it will lead to pacification of class- and race-warfare, that supporting it makes them look good to their friends, and because they hope it will create a society where everyone is taken care of (in other words, a benevolent form of socialism).

However, the divide is more fundamental:

  • Republicans want to destroy all entitlement programs and re-enable a meritocracy, which keeps money flowing quickly through the economy.
  • Democrats want to destroy the military, and create a permanent entitlement state, which creates a permanent base of pacified voters.

Entitlement states are moribund states because, by re-distributing wealth and power, they create a state of entropy. Equality is entropy. If all options are about the same, no one “does” anything constructive or creative — what they do is find destructive ways to profit and extract wealth from the credulous consumer mass.

Republicans want a meritocratic state where the power and money go to the most competent, so that the nation grows in power; Democrats want everyone to be included, so that the country avoids internal conflict. They hope to fund that by taxing the “rich,” or people earning over $250,000.

The problem with that idea is that then instead of taxing the actual rich, you’re taxing the doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants who keep your professional class thriving. To add insult to injury, it won’t bring in enough money:

First, the income of the top 2% of taxpayers is typically more volatile than that of taxpayers lower down the income scale, so when the economy sours, so often do those high-end income streams. That means less revenue than expected will flow into federal coffers.

Second, even if that weren’t true, there just aren’t enough rich people to generate the kind of revenue needed to substantially reduce deficits.

To show the disparity, consider some recent calculations by the Congressional Budget Office. Raising all six income tax rates by 1 percentage point would yield an additional $480 billion over 10 years. By contrast, raising the top two rates by 1 percentage point would yield just $115 billion. – Money

Republicans need to stop being coy about this, and call the Democrats on their bad behavior.

This budget stalemate was not caused by Republicans insisting on purely ideological provisions regarding de-funding NPR and Planned Parenthood.

This is about the budget, yes… but it’s also about a culture war. Democrats want wealth re-distribution for social programs; Republicans want social Darwinism and re-investment in the collective of American society.

Republicans should see they have the mandate of many people in this country to not just make a few cuts, but to slash out half of our budget and put us on a healthier track. They should not lose their nerve, like last round:

Another reason the Obama White House may have wanted to avoid a government shutdown is that a full reading of the history of the 1995-96 budget confrontation between Mr. Clinton and Newt Gingrich offers a more sobering analysis of what happened. Republicans lost that fight for reasons that had less to do with “extremism” and more to do with key GOP players losing their nerve.

In a memoir of his days as a top aide in the Clinton White House, George Stephanopoulos, now with ABC News, says the Democratic White House was very close to blinking over the demands of GOP budget-cutters in Congress. They were thrilled when Bob Dole, the Senate GOP leader who was running for president, blinked first out of concern that the confrontation would damage his presidential prospects. – WSJ

Republicans have the mandate for change, but as said above, they have no idea how to market it.

Democrats, who are better at passive aggression, nail it: “We’d have this budget compromise fixed already if it weren’t for the Republicans, insisting on these two smidgens of detail about NPR and Planned Parenthood. Why can’t they just be more tolerant?”

Of course, they don’t accept the flipside answer, which is: if these programs are such an accepted norm, why do we need government to help them out? Let them join the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other charities.

If it’s such a tiny detail, why don’t Democrats just concede the point?

But the real point is showmanship. The cuts in this budget plan are trivial. Many of them are fabricated because they cut nothing, only take back money unspent by huge federal programs.

This is about the Democrats standing up for their ideological vision of the pacification state, in which the military is penalized and all citizens are not only encouraged in whatever behavior they want to pursue, but subsidized by the state. If you’re afraid of fitting in, that’s a great option, because the state forces others to accept you.

The Republicans need to turn this around, by going back to conservative values: we should not be obligated to pay for that which is incompatible with our worldview. If we want a socially conservative world, the federal government should not be using our tax money to create propaganda to change our minds. It’s like the election system buying voters.

As always, America remains split between its conservatives and liberals, with only one of those groups benefiting from the indecision.

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