Amid the furious spinning of who “won” and who “lost” in last night’s just-in-time budget deal agreement, Brian Beutler has an analysis that actually informs:
t’s a mixed bag for both sides politically. Democrats, led by Reid and President Obama, have had to accept cuts to social programs they value ideologically, and that are important to their base. Indeed, the sum of the cuts is higher than Republicans initially thought feasible. But Boehner was walking a tightrope with conservative rank and filers skeptical of any compromise — a rift Democrats stretched to maximum benefit — despite walking away with more fiscal flesh than anybody would have predicted six months ago.That the government will stay open should come as little solace to Boehner — who to his credit knew the political fallout would harm Republicans. This was a little fight. Puny even. It was the easiest test he’ll face all year, and he barely passed. In just a few weeks, he’ll have to convince the same petulant bloc in his party to support raising the debt limit, or force the country into default. When that’s done, he’ll have to run point on yet another spending fight — to keep the government running next year. In both looming battles, Boehner will demand more spending cuts. But the remaining accounts are much larger, and they pay for programs that have defined Democrats for multiple generations of liberals — popular entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The former two in particular are issues where there’s no common ground between the two parties. And yet they’re where all the money is.
This means the legislative politics in America have whipsawed over the course of a year from whether and how to provide universal health care in the United States, to which social programs ought to be cut or annihilated. That the focal point of policy on Capitol Hill is on what should be cut — and not when to cut, or whether cutting is even wise — illustrates just how brief the progressive moment lasted after Obama’s election in 2008. It also represents a colossal failure of government.
To the extent that the United States does have an immediate fiscal problem, it can be traced to three causes — two systemic, one acute, and none Obama’s fault: Bush tax cuts, unfunded Bush administration spending policies (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Medicare Part D) and plummetting tax revenue following the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession.
These problems helped Obama get elected. They also required him and Democrats, politically, not to let the public forget where the problems came from. When they failed at that, Republicans took an albatross that rested rightly with them and hung it around the Democrats’ necks.
After historic victories in the November midterms, Republicans were locked into commitments to reduce the deficit and create jobs. What they’ve done instead is target key Democratic spending programs, while pushing to lower taxes on the wealthy, and claim their agenda constitutes a jobs and deficit-reduction program.
Their goals fly aggressively in the face of recommendations from the vast majority of top economists, many of whom support pumping more money into the economy, almost all of whom recommend addressing fiscal imbalances after the recovery is fully locked in. The GOP has cobbled together a list of 500 economists who support their policies, and articulated a hazy thesis for why spending cuts are the proper recipe for a weak economy with high unemployment. But their priorities are more accurately seen as a new round in a fight between two parties, one of which has a base that is older, whiter, wealthier, angrier and shrinking.
Jeffrey Sachs, as quoted by TMV’s Owen Gray, put it best (emphasis is mine):
The current budget negotiations have been a dialogue among the wealthy. The big debate has focused on which programs for the poor should be axed first. There has been no discussion of raising taxes on the rich, and quite the contrary, the White House and the Republican leadership agreed to further tax cuts last December. Obama has repeatedly expressed regret at slashing community development, energy support for the poor, and other programs, but he is not fighting the trend, only regretting it.
As Richard (RJ) Eskow acidly observes:
The grand compromisers could have cancelled the next ten years of tax subsidies for oil companies and cut the deficit by forty billion, but apparently that’s not how serious people do things.
Instead, we get death by ten thousand paper cuts:
… the situation is going to be even more difficult this September when the House, Senate, and White House fight over the 2012 appropriations. The House GOP is likely to propose even larger appropriations reductions in next year’s budget than it did for fiscal 2011 and the battle will be far more intense. This especially will be the case if (1) the tea party wing of the GOP doesn’t get what it wants on the 2011 appropriations and feels that it needs to make a stand on 2012, and (2) if House Speaker John Boehner thinks he has to make a stand on 2012 spending to show the tea party he doesn’t deserve a primary opponent.In other words…Expect another shutdown threat…or an actual shutdown…in less than 6 months.