Three lessons I’ve learned from Tea Party budgeting:
1. Charles Lightroller was a chump.
Lightroller was the second mate on the Titanic. Legend holds that no one enforced the command to allow women and children to board the lifeboats first more rigorously than he did. Some call him a hero. But not me. That’s because I, like Rush Limbaugh, think Paul Ryan’s budget is “wonderful.”
And how could you not? Ryan surveys the budget battlefield and here’s what he sees: on one side, an onrushing horde of seniors, working people, and the disabled. On the other, defenseless corporations and their affluent compatriots prancing like happy kittens amongst the flowers. In the face of such forbidding odds some might duck, but Ryan strides onto the field of play and bravely interposes himself between the conflicting parties, prepared to defend the defenseless come what may. [Vote now: Should Ryan's budget plan become law?]
Here’s what that looks like: Medicare, the health program relied on by millions of seniors, is replaced with a benefit guaranteed to fall further and further behind the actual cost of healthcare. Medicaid (healthcare for people with low-incomes) sustains deep cuts. But tax rates on corporations and the highest earners are lowered, while subsidies for oil companies remain untouched. Truly a profile in courage.
2. Pell Grants are destroying America.
I feel badly for not recognizing it, but it seems so obvious now. Freeloaders figured out how to get free food, free housing, and free electricity years ago, but they’ve never been able to reach the Holy Grail: free Biology of the East African Mud Turtle 101. Until now. "You can go to school,” warns Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana, “collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”
Welfare cheats scheming to take the college courses of their dreams? (And then not graduate!) It’s an outrage. How many of them are sitting in a college cafeteria right now snickering over a steaming plate of American Chop Suey? (Purchased with food stamps, natch.) “It’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg says. Talk about getting schooled: that’s got to be one of the smartest theories I’ve ever heard.
Of course, it’s not just Pell Grants that are so nefarious. It’s Head Start too, and Medicare, and Medicaid, and ...(hence, Lesson 1 above).
3. Better than Government? Fairies.
A signal question in American political life today is: when things go wrong, what role, if any, should government play in trying to make things right?
We seem to have settled on some answers. When we’re to blame for the bad things that happen, we’re on our own. The same is true when we do our best but lose fair and square. But what about when people encounter difficulties through no fault of their own and in a way that offends our sense of fairness? A kid who’s born into a family without the means to send him to a good school, or a mother who works hard every day but loses her employment because global economic forces are moving manufacturing jobs to other countries? Should government lend a hand in those kinds of cases?
The Ryans and the Rehbergs conceive of a government that does so less and less. They say the benefit of helping the disadvantaged is outweighed by its expense. What they don’t say is what happens to people who no longer can rely on needed government assistance. Perhaps magical fairies come along, wave their magic wands, and everyone who used to get a Pell Grant can still go to college, only this one is taught by chocolate bunnies! And all those people who can’t afford healthcare anymore? It’s OK. They’re now living in a cottage made entirely of gingerbread!
Let me be clear: there’s every reason to be serious about reducing the budget deficit. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle should be open to good faith ideas that emanate from anywhere on the political spectrum. But it’s reasonable to ask whether using concern over the deficit as an excuse to accomplish purely ideological goals can be considered serious. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
Democrats agree that the private sector should be the engine that drives our economy and that we need the discipline to cut government programs that aren’t working. But there’s something else we believe that sets us apart from the Tea Partyers: there’s a promise inherent to the American free market system that says everyone deserves a fair shot, and that promise goes unfulfilled when people are disadvantaged by forces beyond their control and we all stand by and do nothing about it. [See editorial cartoons about the Tea Party.]
In other words, bring back Charles Lightroller. Boy, do we need him.