Don't buy the budget hype. Sure it's fun to ding Paul Ryan for his unrepentant (Election? What election?) budget plan and his Obamacare contortions. (He wants to repeal it, except for its Medicare savings and tax increases, which he was against, then for, then against, and now for again). But here's the thing about budget resolutions: They're not laws. They're not binding. They are, for all intents and purposes glorified, congressionally sanctioned, party platforms.
The great budget debate, in other words, is a philosophical one. And while such arguments are important we shouldn't let them distract from the real-world policy fights ongoing about how money is actually spent or not spent.
If you've paid any attention, for example, you know the GOP's mantra, that the nation's problem is spending, which is "out of control." This is the basis for their entire policy agenda. It's also pernicious, economically destructive nonsense.
Consider some data points:
This isn't an error; it's a deliberate policy of austerity monomania, consequences be damned. Remember what John Boehner said weeks after he became speaker: "In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said. "If some of those jobs are lost, so be it." If anything is out of control, it's the push for spending cuts, which, let's not forget, is ongoing. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that sequestration—the arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts which started going into effect two weeks ago—will cost the economy another 750,000 jobs this year if left untouched.
The first couple of weeks of sequestration have produced a strange kind of euphoria on the right as lawmakers and activists alike preen over the cuts ("This was a necessary win for Republicans," one anonymous GOP aide told National Review Online) while most of the inside-the-beltway attention has focused on whether President Obama oversold the effects of the cuts and criticism over White House tours having been canceled. Republicans run the risk, however, of becoming the proverbial frog in boiling water. At some point the real-world effects of the cuts, slowly building though they may be, will punch through their ideological bubble.
A week into sequestration, the Huffington Post surveyed how local television news reports have covered the cuts. Local stations "did tend to dig more deeply into the ramifications of the cuts, looking at how people around the country … will be affected in their daily lives," the website reported. Those ramifications included Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, Texas, trying to induce retirements in order to avoid having to fire people, while nearly two dozen county employees around Salt Lake City have been fired. It's not hard to find other grim sequestration stories: Air Force civilian employee furloughs will cost Ohio $111.1 million in lost wages, according to the Dayton Daily News; Customs and Border Protection will start furloughing 60,000 employees in April; the Army, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have suspended tuition assistance programs; control towers in more than 200 general aviation airports nationally are expected to be closed; dairy exports could fall by $500 million, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Corrected on 3/16/13:An earlier version of this column incorrectly characterized previous instances of dramatic deficit contraction. The deficit reductions which book-ended the 1960s occurred at a slower rate than the current fiscal retrenchment.