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Deficit hypocrisy

The headline above pertains to just about everyone in politics these days.

They all decry the budget deficit until it comes time to do something specific--that is, painful--to slash it.

Take the House Republicans, who released their "Pledge to America" on Thursday. They've been moaning and groaning about the Obama deficits. So what do they do? Call for permanently extending the Bush tax cuts--yes, for millionaires as well--which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars in red ink.

But they're the party of small government, right? Well, the pledge lacks specifics on spending cuts. Defense is off the table. Medicare and Social Security remain untouched. Those are the big-ticket items. Budget-cutters who avoid those areas simply aren't serious.

The GOP does call for a spending freeze on most government programs (not affecting the elderly or veterans or the military), saving an estimated $100 billion. That's great. The deficit this year will top $1.3 trillion.

Under the pledge, John Boehner's team would repeal Obamacare and replace it with...something else. Of course, the health-care law is supposed to save money in some ways, though that remains to be seen.

After going on a spending binge--justified, Obama says, by the financial calamity he inherited--the Democrats don't have a serious deficit-cutting plan, either. But the health-care law would slice into Medicare outlays, which is the only way to save real money. The Republicans don't like that.

And the tea party? The folks who say our swollen government is somehow flouting the Constitution? They, too, don't call for any cutbacks in Medicare or Social Security.
The pledge is a good starting point for debate, an effort to shed the Party of No label. But neither party wants to upset large numbers of Americans this close to an election.

The GOP document is not a big hit with many on the right, including Red State's Erick Erickson, who calls it a "ridiculous" bunch of "compromises and milquetoast rhetorical flourishes in search of unanimity among House Republicans because the House GOP does not have the fortitude to lead boldly in opposition to Barack Obama...

"Yes, yes, it is full of mom tested, kid approved pablum that will make certain hearts on the right sing in solidarity. But like a diet full of sugar, it will actually do nothing but keep making Washington fatter before we crash from the sugar high.

"It is dreck -- dreck with some stuff I like, but like Brussels sprouts in butter. I like the butter, not the Brussels sprouts. Overall, this grand illusion of an agenda that will never happen is best spoken of today and then never again as if it did not happen. It is best forgotten."

I have the firm impression that he doesn't like it.

David Frum wonders why Erickson is surprised:

"Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?...

"Tea Party activists have been claiming all year that there exists in the United States a potential voting majority for radically more limited government.

"The Republican 'Pledge to America' declares: Sorry, we don't believe that. We shall cut spending where we can - reform the legislative process in important ways - and sever the federal guarantee for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Republicans will redirect the federal government to a new path that is less expensive and intrusive than the status quo. But if you want promises of radical change? No. Too risky. We don't think the voters want that - not the smaller, older, richer, whiter electorate that votes in non-presidential years, much less the bigger, younger, poorer, less white electorate of presidential years. And even that smaller, older, richer, whiter electorate is highly wary of cuts to programs that benefit them, Medicare above all."

Andrew Sullivan sees it as a fraud:

"Given the gravity of the debt crisis, this is the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP. It is to the far right of Reagan, who raised taxes and eventually cut defense, and helped reform social security to ensure its longterm viability. It is an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance of the U.S., and in this global economic climate, a recipe for a double-dip recession and default. It is the opposite of responsible conservatism."

But the plan draws some applause from National Review, which compares it to Newt Gingrich's 1994 manifesto:

"The pledge is bolder. The Contract with America merely promised to hold votes on popular bills that had been bottled up during decades of Democratic control of the House. The pledge commits Republicans to working toward a broad conservative agenda that, if implemented, would make the federal government significantly smaller, Congress more accountable, and America more prosperous....

"The pledgemakers note that federal spending has grown too much 'over the last decade': There is no pretense that this problem began with President Obama, or even Speaker Pelosi....

"There are, of course, things we would prefer the Republicans to do differently. In some areas the pledge includes misguided policies, in others the Republicans could have been bolder, and in still others we need more details to evaluate it."

The plan, not surprisingly, draws hoots of derision on the left, starting with Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly:

"It's tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn't even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the 'Pledge,' presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren't just the 'party of no'; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of 'party of ideas.'

"But that's precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we're confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense."

Budget-cutting makes for great rhetoric. But there's a reason that politicians go to extreme lengths to avoid doing it.

By Howard Kurtz  | September 23, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories, Top story  | Tags:  Pledge to America, Republicans, budget, budget cuts, deficit  
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Next: Palin hits 'Barack Hussein Obama'


Here's a Tagxedo (word cloud) visualization of the 21-page "Pledge to America" document.

Top words: Government, Spending, People, American

Posted by: Tagxedo | September 23, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The GOP is running scared because the radical right-wing racist Tea Baggers are eating their lunch. They will go as far to he right as they can get, making Barry Goldwater look like a middle-of-the-roader... this is the end of any hope for Republican moderates who have failed to offer any alternative to the "Party of No" tactics. The Tea Party will do what Ross Perot did for Bill Clinton in '92 if they weren't so dangerous and hateful we should be grateful.

Posted by: jeffl240 | September 23, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Cassidy says the key is controlling costs. Why does it have to be one thing or the other...can't the GOP get their buddies in Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Hospitals to work with them to control costs...while keeping in place the mesures tht the new healthcare plan does to help the masses??????

Posted by: Rivery | September 23, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

If the phrase "the American people" didn't exist, would Boehner be mute?

Posted by: Rivery | September 23, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Rivery - spot on! I particularly like the way he kind of runs The American People into a 4 syllable sound. Mare-Ken Pee-Pull. What an empty suit. He is completely over his head...the worst thing that could happen to Boner is that he actually has to come up with an idea and lead. WAYYYY out of his league.

Posted by: CenterLeft | September 23, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

You say: "The pledge is a good starting point for debate, an effort to shed the Party of No label." In what way, please?

Low taxes and zero government has been the Republican mantra for 30 YEARS! This simplistic ideology has nearly destroyed our country! So they want to continue? You are a fool in making this 50-50 party problem. And I don't believe the American people are as dumb as you and Boehner think they are.

There is only one word for these proposals: reckless, irresponsible, cynical and plain stupid. This Republican Party will never GOVERN again.

Posted by: walden1 | September 23, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Time to get real here. Let's face it, "big government" is here to stay. In order to make it measurably smaller, entitlements would have to be slashed or done away with, government oversight of all industries would have to be totally neutered, or done away with (hello more financial disasters, more BP-type environmental disasters, more food-borne illness debacles), and defense cut severely. Despite the Tea Party yelling, the great majority of Americans do not want any of this to happen. Please don't tell me about polling that shows that people respond positively to the phrase "smaller government". That's just a sales pitch that sounds good. Follow up by asking what they'd be willing to get rid of in order to achieve it, and you'll soon find out what empty rhetoric it really is. Yes, it's here to stay, and the difference is determined by who this "big government" will benefit. As the Republicans first. last, and always take the interests of the privileged and powerful ahead of all else, I'll take the Democrats, as timid as they can be at times for standing on principle.

Posted by: bienefes | September 24, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

This is the traditional liberal line -- the cutbacks in federal spending are meaningless without Medicare and Social Security. But Medicare and Social Security has remained stable for the last five years while the size of the federal government has increased from 1.8 million employees to 2.2 million. Obviously, this increase in the federal payroll came in areas other than Medicare and Social Security, and so the cuts can easily come in those other areas. How about the do-nothing federal agencies, like the SEC which ignored Bernie Madoff's wrongdoings for eight years, FEMA which was hopeless responding to Katrina, the Department of Education which has done nothing to improve student testing scores, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which is giving federal funds to NPR which now is endowed with handsome private funds. I could easily provide a longer list, but you get the idea. Social Security and Medicare have had nothing to do with the federal deficit problem.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | September 24, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

The Pledge to America, promising tax cuts AND lower debts while not specifying any painful cuts, is like the ads that promise "Lose Weight But Keep Eating What You Want!" Politicians keep saying they'll balance budgets just by cutting "waste" and "mismanagement" -- the voters won't have to make any sacrifices-- and many people believe it!

Posted by: Sutter | September 24, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

$100 billion in spending reductions - by means of the freeze - pays for the "tax cut for the rich" several times over.

Extending the Bush tax cuts for the non-wealthy, i.e. keeping there tax rates simply as they are, has bipartisan support. Obama campaigned hard on that in 2008, and has not even changed his tune. So that costs $0, as a current baseline.

The tax cut for the wealthy costs something like $36 billion in its first fiscal year. And even that number comes from static scoring, i.e. making the fanciful liberal assumption that tax rates don't affect economic decisions. If the rich, or anyone else for that matter, have $36 billion more to spend, they will of course generate more wealth-creating economic activity that Uncle Sam can tax, thus reducing that $36 billion figure.

In future years, the $100 billion benefit from the non-security freeze grows fast, becuase the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda is to grow spending fast. And repealing ObamaCare and its $800 billion (lowball estimate) price tag over the coming decade produces substantial long-term savings. You can't get that with Democrats in charge.

As far as immediate deficit relief Mr. Kurtz overlooked the biggest benefit stated in the pledge - the promise to return unspent TARP and stimulus money to the Treasury, rather than finding liberal cronies to give it away to. Howard Kurtz is usually more objective. Hundreds of billions of appropriated but unspent funds could be applied to the deficit and make a big difference right away. The government could also make a quick temporary improvement in its finances by selling off some of its $1.2 trillion in assets. Tens of billions worth of auto company assets would be a good place to start.

Sure, Republicans have a history of fiscal irresponsibility that rivals the Democrats. But the Tea Party movement, once integrated into the party as it figures to be in 2010, should change that. No more $50 billion boondoggles for organized labor, or $26 billion giveaways for public teachers. Maybe even a big cut in the DoEd's $68 billion yearly wastefest could finally happen.

A radical change to the tax code - say, double FICA, eliminate its earnings ceiling, and eliminate the existing personal income tax, could be revenue-neutral on its face but could create a LOT of new economic activity just by simplifying people's lives. And that could help the deficit too.

Even an optimistic scenario doesn't give us a budget surplus in the next fiscal year with the Republicans at the helm. But a reduction to $500 billion or even $900 billion would be a terrific improvement.

Posted by: angrydoug1 | September 24, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Starve the Beast has two components. First, lower taxes so that there is no income to fund social programs. Then, explode the deficit so that there is no ability to borrow in order to fund social programs. Bush/Cheney accomplished both.

Posted by: blasmaic | September 24, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

What I want to do is finally shake the hand of the one who knew all along...John King was just too awful for prime-time live

Now if only we could get NBC new CEO to do the same with David Gregory


Get rid of Joe and Mikki in the morning on MSNBC!

I'll watch Spritzer and Parker over Keith anyday...but it better not interfere with TRMS on MSNBC...or they won't be seeing me!

Posted by: dove369 | September 24, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Kurtz hits the nail on the head. This has been the problem with the Republicans for the past 30 years. They want to lower taxes but not lower spending, and cover the difference by borrowing more money.

I think there are a few tea party people of the more intelligent variety- like the Pauls- with whom liberals could make common cause on at least a few issues. Libertarians are no big fans of corporate welfare and bloated military spending, just like most liberals are not. If we can focus on the things that we have in common, instead of the things that divide us, we might get somewhere with these people.

Posted by: stillaliberal | September 26, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

If your a person of wealth you can look at government revenues two ways. The first is to actually pay the taxes to support a government of the size we have; this would be an expense. The other way is to have the government borrow money. When the government borrows money not only is it not an expense, but if government bonds are purchased then it is a source of revenue. Of course this begins to break down after a while, but by then if things get too bad then you can always renounce your citizenship and move to a tax haven somewhere.
You see, deficits don't matter as long as you have no allegiance to the country that has made you wealthy.

Posted by: ThomasFiore | September 27, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

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