The incoming House Republican majority plans to throw down its $100 billion fiscal gauntlet on the area of the federal budget known as nondefense discretionary spending—that is, everything except military and veterans appropriations, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.
This is risky—as any package of spending reductions must be—but potentially brilliant. [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]
It will satiate the Tea Party base’s appetite for “smaller government” without angering seniors, who broke so decisively for Republicans in last year’s midterm elections.
Yet, as the Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl rightly laments in a quote for the New York Times:
The difficulty for Republicans is that they’re concentrating their cuts in a small sliver of the budget ... They should also be addressing large entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, which are the main source of our budget problems. Cutting $100 billion from these other programs isn’t just a matter of eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. It will involve real cuts in real programs.
If I had my Hamiltonian druthers, I’d like to see savings from significant cuts in programs for seniors and the military (remind me, again, why we're still defending Europe from the Soviet Union?) plowed into long-term deficit reduction, a 10-year infrastructure overhaul plan, and investment in the kind of joint public-private sector research ventures that yielded such growth-drivers as the Internet.
But neither party seems to think like I do.
As I see it, this presents President Obama and congressional Democrats with two choices: 1) They can offer a “Let’s Get Serious” counterproposal; or 2) They can demagogue the proposed cuts.
The Times article envisions heavy-hitting campaign ads in key congressional districts in 2012:
[I]f Republicans vote for the size and range of required cuts in education, law enforcement, medical and scientific research, transportation and much more, it would give Democrats political ammunition to use against them in swing districts.
This is highly plausible.
Alternatively, Obama and Democrats could, as I recommended in the wake of the midterms, reach across the aisle with a grand, “Everything is on the table” budget solution. Serious Republicans know this is the endgame. What if Obama peeled off enough of them to render moot the idea of, let’s face it, negligible discretionary spending cuts that won’t add up to much over the long haul?
Sadly, knowing Democrats, my money is on demagoguery.
Unbuckle your seatbelts; this car’s going nowhere.