Friday, February 11, 2011

Republican Rejig

The Republican party in the House of Representatives is undergoing some interesting changes, as newly-elected ultra-conservative lawmakers exert their influence. Establishment Republicans (including the House  leadership) proposed $30 billion in cuts for a stopgap seven-month budget; after a public fuss by tea party conservatives, this figure was pumped up to a whopping $100 billion. An important point: those cuts exclude non-discretionary spending (like Medicare and Social Security) and defense, which leaves a narrow segment of government spending that encompasses many low-budget, high-impact programs.

Republicans, by focusing on such a small part of total federal spending, reveal their cynicism. Instead of genuinely tackling our fiscal problems (by cutting defense, reforming tax policy, and confronting entitlements), they are using the language of deficit reduction to advance a purely ideological agenda. If Republicans were serious about fiscal reform, would eviscerating the EPA, eliminating Americorps, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and high-speed rail construction really be a top priority?

When the freshman Republicans arrived in Washington, I was both mortified and hopeful. Although morally impoverished in many policy areas (such as addressing inequality), their philosophical pureness gave me hope that some structural fiscal problems might finally be tackled with intellectually honest solutions. Unfortunately what happened was that the Republican leadership acquiesced to the politically digestible demands, but turned tail and ran when it came to confronting the more challenging issues of defense, entitlements, and taxes. This may have been a shrewd move politically, but such cowardice on the part of House leadership strips the ultra-conservatives of their one redeeming quality. Good thing they didn't get the Senate.

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