Saturday, October 5, 2013

What Democrats are up to

Okay, I think I now understand why Democrats are wanting a continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels to last a shorter, rather than longer, time.  Democrats are unhappy with current levels of funding and hope to negotiate an increase with Republicans.

Bwah ha ha ha ha!  Or, as we say on the internet, ROTFLMAO!  If the Democrats think that, they are nuts! Let me explain some basics.  Republicans think current levels of spending are intolerable and must be massively cut.  It logically follows that they will not agree to an increase.  Besides, each defeat simply makes Republicans even crazier.  Assuming they eventually cave on this go-round, the Tea Party wing will simply decide that they were not crazy enough, and the moderates will fall in line, fearing a primary challenge.

On the other hand, Republicans have said that they might consider increasing discretionary spending in exchange for cuts in mandatory spending or, as it is euphemistically called, entitlement reform.  I am not clear whether Republicans simply mean cutting safety net programs for the poor, or whether they mean Social Security and Medicare.  (I guess we will find out).  If they mean cutting safety net spending on the poor, Democrats will refuse and public opinion may very well back the Republicans.  Democrats would be out of their minds to want to go there.

If the Republicans mean Social Security and Medicare, on the other hand, Democrats might want to go there, for entirely cynical and selfish reasons.  We do, in fact, have a serious long-run problem with both problems.  As our population ages, relatively more and more people will be using these programs, and funding will increasingly be a problem.  It is, indeed, better to deal with them sooner rather than later.  Republican want to deal with them through spending cuts only.  Democrats want to deal with them primarily with tax increases, though perhaps with some modest and cautious spending cuts.  In a sane body politic, the parties could reach some sort of compromise, then hold hands and jump together.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a sane body politic.  Republicans demand that any changes be made by spending cuts only and will not tolerate any increase in tax revenue again, ever.  Sure it's crazy, but so is the Republican Party.  Every attempt to negotiate the issue has gone exactly nowhere for this reason.  Any future attempt to negotiate entitlement reform in the ordinary political process will fail for the same reason.  That is why Republicans use extreme tactics like government shutdown and threat of debt ceiling breach to get their way.

Republicans have one little problem here.  Their basic position is extremely unpopular, not just with the Democrats, but with the public at large, including much of the Republican base.  They are right that eventually something will have to be done.  They are also right that ultimately, it will have to be something both parties agree to so that the voters will not be able to punish either party by voting for the other.  But so long as they refuse to make any concessions to the Democrats, it ain't gonna happen.  Which means that Democrats can portray themselves as champions of Medicare and Social Security against Republican attack.  And, although conventional wisdom has it that it is just about impossible for Democrats to win the House in 2014, if anything could make that possible, it is Republicans openly coming out as a threat to Social Security and/or Medicare.

To the extent Democrats are trying to smoke out Republicans as threats to those two programs, their position makes at least some sense.  But I still think we do best to postpone the next budget showdown and possible shutdown for as long as possible.

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