For years, the response to conservatives demanding huge but undefined federal budget cuts, or grandstanding on miniscule expenditures like public broadcasting, has been pretty simple: what would you actually cut to keep these promises? Republicans had control of Congress for many years prior to the Democratic majority that took power in 2006, but rhetoric notwithstanding, no comprehensive plan to meaningfully reduce government spending ever emerged.
Indeed, the period of one-party rule in Washington, DC under a Republican Congress and President George W. Bush was a model of fiscal irresponsibility–when historic tax cuts and huge new government entitlements such as Medicare Part D both passed.
The reason was simple: in order to carry out the rhetorical fullness of their successful election platform, they would have to make cuts that would horrify the public, and prove devastating to the Republican Party politically. As a result, the party of fiscal responsibility became the opposite, as they sought to please everyone by cutting taxes and growing entitlement spending.
This is, at least in the mind of its lay members, a reason the “Tea Party” came into existence: a demand by “ordinary” Americans for the decades of promises by Republicans for a “smaller government” to be fulfilled. And as the Washington Post reports today, the new congressional majority elected by the “Tea Party” in 2010 has made good on that pledge.
Which will now horrify the public.
House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious and politically perilous plan to resize the federal government and stem the $14 trillion national debt by slashing spending on domestic programs and fundamentally overhauling government health programs for the elderly and the poor…
The proposal urges a sweeping transformation of federal health programs that would wipe out funding for Obama’s health-care initiative and end Medicare as an open-ended entitlement. Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly, would be replaced for those under age 55 with a system of premium supports to buy insurance policies in the private market. The plan would not restore cuts to Medicare made under Obama’s health- care legislation, though it would eliminate a special board established to restrain the program’s future growth.
Medicaid, the health program for the poor, would come in for sharper cuts, totaling $771 billion over the next decade. The GOP plan would roll back the Medicaid expansion called for under Obama’s health initiative by ending the financing partnership between the federal government and the states. Instead it would create block grants giving states less federal money but freeing them to manage the program as they wish…
On discretionary spending, Ryan’s plan would match Obama’s call for Pentagon and war funding, but it proposes major cuts to domestic programs totaling $1.6 trillion over the next decade – holding growth in education, transportation, justice, food safety and other programs well below the rate of inflation. The move would make good on a Republican campaign pledge to restore domestic spending to levels in effect in 2008, before George W. Bush and Obama began pumping federal dollars into the economy to blunt the effects of recession.
Programs for the poor would get particular attention, the blueprint says, “to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.” [Pols emphasis]
Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is a sweeping declaration, folks, a point of debate that clarifies exactly where–and how far apart–the two ideological poles in American politics stand today. There’s no question, as we discussed before, that cuts of this magnitude would have major impacts on the economy; which, whether the “Tea Party” likes it or not, is underpinned by both the private and public sectors. But beyond that, there’s the simple history: these institutions the public takes for granted, that would be privatized, shrunk, or eliminated, arose in response to identified needs within American society. We have Medicare because senior citizens in America couldn’t get coverage, and as a result, couldn’t get health care. Just one example.
The voters may have an unrealistic vision of what they want, but we assure you, this is not it.
The Republicans have done the country a great service today by revealing their true vision–cuts that undo fundamental planks in America’s social safety net, while continuing to slash taxes. It’s a much more honest proposal than the previous unworkable policy of tax cuts and deficit-financed largesse, and that may be what the GOP will regret the most when this is over.