The Spectacle Blog

Budget Cutters Should Chill Out

By on 2.9.11 | 5:12PM

Before I say what I'm going to say, let me re-establish my bona fides, although I'll still get slammed by angry extremists anyway. But I'm a budget cutter's budget cutter. I served on the Approps Committee when it actually cut $50 billion in domestic discretionary spending in two years, which back then was REAL money. It would be the equivalent of about $120 billion today, as a percentage of the budget, if my back-of-envelope math is right. I also was way out front criticizing GOP big spending when almost nobody else even in the conservative media was doing so. I did so in 1998. I did so in 1999. I did so every single year of the Bush administration, even when other conservatives were blasting ANYbody who dared criticize Bush (he was riding high with a 70 percent approval rating at the time). I wrote, back when Britney Spears was still claiming to be virtuous, that Bush was a conservative the way Spears was a virgin: only when it suits their marketing. And my complaints were almost all based on spending. Going back much farther than that, I was complaining in 1984 that Reagan's re-election campaign had blown a chance to make a case for more spending discipline.

Nonetheless, the conniption fits a lot of the House freshmen are having about Paul Ryan's $32 billion in proposed domestic discretionary cuts are totally misplaced. Anybody who thought the $100 billion cut pledge applied to this FISCAL year, which is almost half finished, is crazy. The pledge was for this year -- this first legislative year of the new Congress, meaning for the first full budget this Congress gets to work on, which is that of FY 2012.

Anything else is lunacy. Cutting one sixth of the entire domestic discretionary budget for a year already half over actually has the effect of cutting one-third of the remaining funds. That isn't conservative, it's crazily, bat-sh** radical. There is no way, in terms of an agency spread sheet, to do that without massive furloughs, cutbacks in actual operations of government, etc.

For comparison, when the House GOP rescinded $16 billion (or about $8 billion net after paying for disaster aid and some military stuff) in 1995, it was seen as an astonishingly bold move. As a percentage of the relevant parts of the budget now, that's about $36 billion. It was done carefully. No little old ladies froze in the street. No toddlers starved in the gutters. No matter how the MSM tried, nobody could really find any horror stories. The GOP entered that fall's budget battles riding high, with a real head of steam, because we had shown that we could cut both deeply AND carefully. (Dumb tactical mistakes then cost the GOP in the "shutdown" battle, but that's another story. The fact is we -- I was GOP at the time, not media, so I can say "we" --- absolutely had emerged from the rescissions fight in great poltical shape.) But here's the key: If the GOP cuts willy-nilly, a full $100 billion for THIS fiscal year rather than the coming one, I guarantee there will be horror stories. I guarantee there will be mistakes. I guarantee there will be a political reversal that will harm or destroy our REAL objective, which is to make significant, PERMANENT, politically sustainable budget savings that lead to a stable, balanced budget while conservatives still hold sway in Congress for a lasting time.

The freshmen, and the outside conservatives who egg them on, flat-out don't know what they are doing. They need to plan to win the long game, rather than demand a short-game, instant-gratification win that turns into a horribly Pyrrhic victory.

Paul Ryan knows what he's doing. His critics don't.

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