Friday question answered
In response to my question as to how much of the Republican Study Group's spending cut proposal will get passed, readers' responses ranged from deep skepticism to cautious enthusiasm.
The most comprehensive answer came from the StatistQuo (who gets bonus points for a clever user name), who comments on the plan to cut $2.5 trillion through 2021:
It is not as extreme a figure and all is realizable, even with a 53-47 advantage in the Senate. Returning to the pre 111th/Obama spending levels does not seem to be a stretch. They wisely refuse to touch entitlement reform third rail. Fannie and Freddie and Federal employees are hardly sacred cows. I would like a few sacred cows thrown in like ethanol and aggie subsidies, but it's a start.
The larger issue is Obama's response. If he does not counter at the SOTU, he'll be seen as unserious about the deficit. If he takes the johnny-one-note approach of solely cutting defense in a time of war, while soft pedaling domestic spending cuts, he can jeopardize his efforts to triangulate. He is hoping to avoid touching the entitlements third rail, but defense cannot carry the full burden of deficit reduction. Then you have Paul Ryan (a deficit commission member and possible Presidential candidate) who will waiting to give the SOTU rebuttal. He'll probably articulate a better deficit reduction plan than DeMint and Company. Obama's position is far more dicey than his liberal allies will admit. I predict the President will try to split the differences and please no one, except the bobbleheads in the media.
I agree with virtually all of that, save on a few points.
First, entitlements must and will be addressed by Ryan and others. It may be the "third rail," but the public sentiment is changing as more Americans realize the fiscal crisis we face. The Rivlin-Ryan plan demonstrated that there are thoughtful Democrats and Republicans who can agree on substantial modifications of entitlement programs. We can't get our fiscal house in order without focusing on the major culprit: open-ended entitlement programs that are unsustainable in their current form.
Second, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) deserves a lot of credit for a serious effort to rein in non-defense discretionary spending. As I have said earlier, if anything, I was struck by how non-controversial a number of the proposals are. Others provide the basis for serious debate. For example, why are we adding billions to our government contracting costs and diminishing opportunities for minority businesses by adhering to the New Deal-era Davis-Bacon wage rules?
Third, Republicans like Ryan have articulated a meritorious and viable position on defense spending. We are at war, and defense is the first and most essential function of the federal government. It is also a pittance compared to the amount we're going to spend, if it is not repealed, on ObamaCare or on other entitlement programs. However, Republicans should look for waste, fraud, and abuse. We need to tie, as we are supposed to be doing, defense spending to our national security threats. If there are savings beyond that to be had, the Congress and White House should pursue them. But a budget game of expanding domestic spending at the expense of defense must be stopped.
Finally, as I have written before, Obama, I suspect, will come up with a big spending cut number -- based on slashes in defense, tax hikes, and clever accounting gimmicks. The test for the Republicans will be to explain why that is a nonstarter. DeMint's plan is a good start. Ryan's State of the Union response will be another step. And then the legislative battle will commence.
| January 24, 2011; 8:30 AM ET
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