With due respect, I think those who are praising the budget deal are deluding themselves. Under circumstances where we are trillions of dollars in debt, the GOP just caved on its promise to cut the relative pittance of $61 billion in spending because it’s just not worth fighting for more than the half-pittance of $40 billion Democrats claimed was their drop-dead number. “Drop dead” meant daring Republicans to shut the government down (which, as we know, doesn’t actually shut the government down). The Republicans blinked.
For me, this is no surprise — as I’ve said several times (see, e.g., here and here), I don’t think they’re serious. But I want to make a point about how strange this praise of Boehner & Co. is. A mere four months ago, the big controversy in conservative and Republican circles was whether the GOP had reneged on their vaunted pledge to cut $100B in spending in the current fiscal year because they had seemingly come down to $61B. As I noted at the time, there was no question that, if you looked at the fine print of the pledge, the commitment was $61B — but that if you looked at reality, both $61B and $100B were laughably unserious. No matter. Folks around here pooh-poohed my criticism and insisted that a $61B pledge was a sober first step, showing real fortitude about getting our fiscal house in order.
So now they’ve stopped short, significantly short, of that purportedly serious step, and the reaction is, “We won!” You’ve got to be kidding me. The only thing Boehner won is future assurance that GOP leadership can safely promise the moon but then settle for crumbs because their rah-rah corner will spin any paltry accomplishment, no matter how empty it shows the promise to have been, as a tremendous victory.
And what’s the rationale for settling? Why, that these numbers are so piddling — that the $21 billion difference is so meaningless in the context of $14 trillion — that it’s best just to settle, make believe the promise was never made, make believe we didn’t flinch, and put this episode behind us so we can begin the “real work” of the next promise, the Ryan Plan.
Regarding that plan, you’re to believe that the captains courageous who caved on $21 billion — and who got elected because of Obamacare but don’t even want to discuss holding out for a cancellation of $105 billion in Obamacare funding — are somehow going to fight to the death for $6 trillion in cuts. Right.
I look forward to next year, though, when the commentariat will no doubt be swooning over the just announced Ryan Plan 2.0. That will be an even more fantabulous, intellectually serious proposal to cut, oh, say $12 trillion (of course, if promises don’t mean anything, why stop at 12?). By then, the same pundits will be warning that the Republicans must not shut down the government to hold out for Ryan 1.0′s trifling $6 trillion. After all, we’ll have the real serious business of Ryan 2.0 to attend to, and the Obama Democrats will be offering to meet Boehner halfway with a swell, good faith counter-offer of $27.50 in spending cuts.
$27.50? Why, of course. Why should Democrats go to $30, or $30,000, or $30 billion? After all, when you’re swimming in a multi-trillion dollar sea of red ink, you’ll always be able to say it’s all chump change, not worth squabbling over. And when the GOP is always promising to fight next time, it will seem so rightwing whack-jobby of us to demand that they fight this time.
So three cheers for the GOP’s steely resolve in achieving a whopping $40 billion in spending cuts. Better yet, ten cheers: one for each of the ten days it will take Leviathan to borrow more than this budget deal cuts.