In the first debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, which just wrapped up in Boston, the senator did everything in his power to depict his challenger as a tax-focused big spender. But when prompted to explain how she’d avoid the fiscal cliff, she did list three areas where she’d cut spending from the federal budget. And those targets are pretty telling: She said she’d cut agriculture subsidies, push for targeted defense cuts, and end the war in Afghanistan.
It’s great that Warren, at least in theory, thinks the government is spending money in some irresponsible ways, but her suggestions indicate she might not have the most practical approach to restraining government spending (which will surprise approximately no one). Let’s go point-by-point:
First, farm subsidies are notoriously difficult to cut. It’s an admirable goal, but for candidate who trumpets her political inexperience to suggest she can pull off such a feat — and in a large enough amount to keep us from going off the fiscal cliff — is kind of cute (the current debate on the “farm bill” may be over the “farm bill” is hardly encouraging). Best of luck, but let’s not bank on it.
Second, targeted defense cuts. Really? First, there have already been $486 billion in defense cuts enacted by the Obama administration. And maybe I’m missing something obvious here that the good professor is keyed in to, but aren’t targeted defense cuts part of the fiscal cliff, via sequestration? Yes, sequestration does impose arbitrary percentage cuts on certain sectors of the military budget (e.g., Army “operations and maintenance”), but within those categories, the Pentagon and Congress can target specific cuts — so how does Professor Warren propose to deal with the fiscal cliff by . . . proposing something that’s part of it already? I’m in contact with Warren’s people about this and hope to hear back soon. I’ll post an update when I do.
And third, she said she’d end the war in Afghanistan. Two things: 1) Is there anyone who doesn’t want to end the war in Afghanistan? and 2) The last 33,000 “surge” troops leave Afghanistan this week. The war is being quickly drawn down, regardless of consequences. Does she believe an even more rapid drawdown be a remotely plausible solution to the fiscal cliff, which comes in three months?
The conclusion is only that Warren would make her a totally inept budget-cutter — in the rare circumstances where that’s actually what she’s trying to do.