1. Austan Goolsbee’s op-ed in the WSJ is pointed at Republicans, but isn’t partisan tripe by any stretch of the imagination. It isn’t clear that cutting spending magically fixes everything. Moreover, the downturn means we have virtually no good options:
The Congressional Budget Office forecast a $1.2 trillion deficit before the Obama administration even came into office. The stimulus added only around $250 billion a year, and more than one-third of that came from tax cuts, especially the tax credit in the stimulus bill’s “Making Work Pay” provision.
Most of the increase in the deficit during a downturn doesn’t come from new policies in Washington. The deficit rises because both spending and taxes automatically adjust when the economy struggles. Unemployment insurance payments rise and more people qualify for Medicaid and food stamps. Incomes fall so people pay less taxes.
This is correct. Even before Obama came into office, the deficit was going to spike sharply. You can see that in Heritage’s report: look at the surplus/deficit numbers for 2007 and 2008 in “The Federal Budget, 1990-2010” chart. Also note the category labeled “Entitlement Spending” all 20 years. That wasn’t Obamacare that created that 2008 spike.
In fact, as Goolsbee points out, one problem with cutting spending during a downturn is that more people than ever depend on assistance because of the downturn. One can try to argue as the gentleman I met on the plane to New Orleans did and relentlessly say that Congress is stealing all the money for themselves. However, readers of this blog know the federal budget is roughly 40-50% entitlement spending (split about even between Social Security & Medicare/Medicaid), about 30% defense, about 20-30% everything else. That “everything else” includes federal education spending, the NEA, interstates, foreign aid, and any corruption one imagines Congress engaged in. So at most Congress can steal 30% of the budget for themselves.
Low taxes and cutting spending make for good campaign rhetoric, but might not even be close to realistic options. The money we bring in from taxes has collapsed as incomes have fallen. Entitlements are soaring and no one likes to hear who’s entitled. That having been said: growth will come. We’ve got too many educated people who want to do more. Many enjoy the challenge of the market.
2. We as Republicans aren’t in a great spot. We can certainly attack Obamacare within reason. The amount national health care costs is simply ridiculous. That having been said, you’re not going to get me to say over and over again that America has the greatest health care system in the world, as Hannity was prone to do during the debate. Access to health care is a serious concern. We can also attack a more-or-less inconsistent foreign policy. Did we commit to Afghanistan and Iraq enough to have lasting gains?
But part of me can guess the deep reason why there are no conservative intellectuals left, just gas-bags with talk shows. The “low taxes / low spending / less government” mantra was given a chance and worked well to a degree. (It will get a chance again inasmuch as the individual states have racked up horrific amounts in unfunded liabilities promising everything and anything to their workers.) However, it may not generate that feeling of freedom all of us want, on both Right and Left. We want to feel secure as we exercise choice; this is collapsing into identity politics and grievance on the Right and Left, as everyone thinks someone else is taking their security away.
I don’t think any party or candidate can solve that larger problem. That requires a country where everyone is committed to helping each other succeed in a variety of ways. Strangely enough, it isn’t the commitment on our part that’s the issue – there are many genuinely loving and giving Americans. (That ridiculously arrogant and patronizing “If I were a poor black kid” probably wasn’t written to be mean.) It’s actually the variety we’re lacking. Ever notice that you feel a lot better when you see the people around you striving for more, trying to do different things and meet different people? We need a lot more of that. For ourselves: this might be the time to try for a more diverse Republican party, ethnically and religiously and whatever else. The base might be turning to Romney because it is genuinely tired of too much partisanship. One can’t say the Democratic party has been particularly even-handed and generous in its time governing.