Will Republican Debt Solution Target Public Workers and the Poor?

We won’t solve our entitlement crisis this way.

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Commentary blogger Peter Wehner wonders whether we’ve “reached an inflection point on entitlement programs”: “Is there a new sobriety among the citizenry when it comes to fiscal matters?”

Wehner himself is not sure, but finds great encouragement in the forthcoming House Republican budget that will, we’ve been assured, begin to tackle entitlements. [See a slide show of 10 budget and spending fights looming for Obama and the GOP.]

I’m not sold yet.

And here’s why. The Washington Post reports this morning:

The budget fights initiated by Republican governors represent a multi-state effort by like-minded politicians to solve budgetary problems in part by weakening public employee unions and demanding significant concessions from workers.

I’ve seen no polling data to support this hunch, but I’d be willing to bet that the typical conservative who cheers such efforts--I generally have no quarrel with them myself--believes that a similar fight at the federal level would significantly alleviate our debt woes.

Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, for example, told NPR: “We’re going to have to figure out how to do more with less, and a significant portion of our budget is the federal payroll ... So, as a Republican, I want to live up to the obligation made in the Pledge to America, and that is to freeze the hiring and cap federal pay.”

Moreover, National Review’s Rich Lowry recommended that the opening salvo of entitlement reform look something like this:

The best course would probably be to put off Social Security for now (doesn’t get you much over the next ten years, and is absolutely radioactive unless Republicans get bipartisan cover); get a start on Medicare reforms (by repealing Obama’s cuts and then getting no more than the same dollar amount in more market-oriented ways--defusing the charge that they are “gutting” Medicare); and to be bold on Medicaid (a big contributor to the fiscal mess in the states and an issue where they can get support from governors).

Take a bird’s-eye view of this.

What we have is an emerging conservative consensus that the fight over federal debt is going to target public employees, “administrative waste,” and the poor. The true third rail--benefits that flow to affluent seniors--will not even be sniffed, let alone touched. [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

I would make two observations: We won’t solve our entitlement crisis this way.

And, while it may make for smart politics, it ain’t even close to bold or brave.