President Obama said yesterday, “The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown.” This is indeed the interesting question: Is politics motivating the Republicans, or ideology? I realize that Obama meant to ask whether the government would be shut down. But humor me while I interpret the sentence the other way: Politics versus ideology.
Most of what the Grand Old Party has done in the last two years can much better be explained by politics than ideology. For example, only politics can explain a systematic strategy of opposing whatever the White House favors, even when this requires changing one’s vote — for example on the fiscal commission bill that Senators like John McCain had previously been sponsors of. Only politics can explain the long-time refusal of so-called fiscal conservatives to name the specific spending programs they want to cut.
Arithmetic and history. Two of my favorite subjects in school. I covered some history two posts ago (the Whisky Rebellion). Let’s do some arithmetic now.
Attention is currently focused on threats of a government shut-down, either when a continuing resolution is required from Congress in March in order to keep the government operating, or a few months later, when an increase in the national debt ceiling is required. The common description of this showdown as a high-stakes game of chicken has it right. But some of the Tea Partiers say that their goal is literally to avoid an increase in the debt ceiling – not just as a bargaining ploy nor as an abstract goal, but in the sense that they want to cut spending so sharply that there is no need to borrow any more after this spring. Similarly, Senators Mike Lee (Utah) and John Kyl (Ariz.) have revived the proposal for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. And of course they all want to do it without raising taxes, and in most cases without cutting defense, Social Security or Medicare. Oh, and don’t cut farm subsidies either.
Question from the National Journal: “President Obama and his team said recently that the fiscal 2011 budget will represent a credible effort to reduce budget deficits and put the federal government on a path toward “sustainable” deficits …How would you alter taxes and spending to achieve (or at least pursue) that goal? ”
Here are my ten proposals to move the budget back to a sustainable path (like the one it was on until January 2001):
First, auction off most greenhouse gas emission permits, rather than giving them away to firms (which would confer windfall profits). This is what President Obama originally proposed last February, but it is not in the congressional climat change legislation.