We saw, supposedly, a budget cutting smack-down in the 2010 midterms. The talking heads and deficit hawks have said repeatedly that the heavy Democratic losses were a rejection of heavy spending, a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s “weak” job-creation, and a massive dose of humble pie. We were told that the biggest threats to our nation were government spending and government debt. The Tea Party, we were promised, had the solutions.
This song sounds strangely familiar. Without overindulging in policy debates previously covered in this space ad-nauseum, the initial legislative priorities of the Tea-publicans don’t seem to have much to do with the problems at large. In the Congress, and in state houses across the nation, these folks seem Hell-bent on addressing Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and union-busting. Efforts at ending “reckless spending” have been exclusively (yes, exclusively) limited to cutting salaries and benefits for working Americans, attacking education, trimming indigent health care, bludgeoning Sesame Street, putting the cuffs on law enforcement, and of course, making the homes of the poor a little colder next winter.
President Obama has played a role in this production, preemptively proposing some of the cuts in the hopes he can defeat the most damaging ones. But, as Speaker Boehner has said, this is the Republican’s time. They are in charge (as Nancy Pelosi was in charge in 2007), and it is their agenda which will save the world for democracy (if you are wealthy enough to participate in it). But the math is, once again, not in their favor. While Republicans have made no steps towards job creation (having instead moved to kill jobs in state and local government), they have made a collection of transparently ridiculous attempts at “fiscal responsibility”. We have, as a nation, averaged an annual deficit over the last four years of around $1 trillion dollars. The Tea-publican dream this year, was to trim $100 billion from the budget.
According to this collection of overcooked Chicken Littles, the budget sky is falling, and their brave responsible solution is to trim 10% of the deficit (not 10% of the budget). If they had challenged the President on Afghanistan or even demanded that the President trim Medicare according to Representative Ryan’s plan, then they would at least have some logical leg to stand on. Instead, their ham-handed efforts reveal an agenda driven, not by fiscal responsibility, but by a much older political motive; pure ideology. The Tea Partiers have made no attempt to take on the problems they say are threatening our nation, but they have taken on projects that they have despised for decades.
Our budget issues, at the local, state, federal, and corporate levels, are driven by the explosion in health care costs over the last decade in acute terms, and projected accelerations into the future. This is not an ideological statement, it is an accounting identity. This market, which effects every person in the economy, has accelerated costs at a rate exceeding four times the base rate of inflation for more than a decade. It can’t simply be avoided without further eroding the basis of our market economy, but Republicans and the Tea Party would simply ignore the issue entirely, and prescribe “tax cuts”.
The Tea Party intellectuals (and I use that phrase with both caution and a deep sense of humor), have seen our torn aorta, and prescribed closure of the skin and a pair of aspirin. This is the definition of self-fulfilling prophesy; they predict the collapse of our nation, then do everything in the power to hasten its arrival. Our media is supposed to recognize and report on this type of garbage, but many have been taken in by the advertising. David Brooks has led the editorial staff of the New York Times into full-fledged deficit-hawkdom, and Rupert Murdoch has, with the backing of Peter Peterson, led a balance of other outlets down the same path. Nowhere, it appears, are there mainstream journalists with a calculator and access to a budget spreadsheet.
The Rational Middle has called before for its readers and friends to pay close attention to the reporting on these issues. The finances of our democracy often fall behind the more attractive areas of activicsm, but they are critical to everything else we the people do. There is no democracy without “one person, one vote”. There is no democracy without free and fully-attended public education. There is no democracy without individual rights that take precedence over corporate initiative. There is no democracy without a rationalized budget supporting all of the above.
The Rational Middle is listening.