I knew my last post would stir the pot. And I knew that a lot of angry conservatives would entirely miss the point. My point is not that we should not cut the government by a very large amount; my point was that we should do it right. It’s not how fast we cut that matters, but how effectively we cut and how much we cut long-term.
If you have several grape-sized tumors, you get a doctor to use a scalpel, with skill. If you have a soccer-ball-sized tumor, you don’t use a machete on it: You still get a doctor to use a scalpel, with skill.
When the U.S. entered World War II, we didn’t try a landing in France in 1942. We waited until 1944, after Hitler was weakened, after we were trained, after our intelligence and counter-intelligence were highly developed, after we meticulously planned our assault with devastating force. And it was still a fairly close-run thing in Normandy. MEanwhile, we hadn’t just been twiddling our thumbs. We had retaken North Africa, retaken Sicily and parts of Italy. (We had also made great progress in the Pacific.)
The old proverb is right: Haste makes waste.
To be clear, I think that major cuts in domestic discretionary spending, larger than $100 billion a year from current levels, are needed. I think huge savings must be achieved from remaining welfare-related programs and through entitlement reforms. I think we need to balance the budget. I think not just the size of government but also its intrusiveness must be reined in. Regulations must be cut. The federal criminal code must be severely weeded out. Prosecutorial overreach must be stopped.
But the way to do it is to avoid repeating the mistakes of 1995. Those mistakes are still misunderstood today. The “shutdown” was lost not because of substance but because of tone, because of lack of a “phase two” strategy, and because the GOP idiotically put a Medicare provision into the mix at the wrong time, while misguidedly choosing how we proposed to deal with Medicare. In other words, we didn’t plan it well enough and we tried to do too many things at once.
Look, if a decent president doesn’t replace Barack Obama in 2013, that’s all she wrote. We’re toast. Four more years of consolidating power in the bureaucracy, issuing regulations and executive orders, and appointing judges who won’t hold the administration within bounds, would be disastrous. If conservatives rush off, half-cocked, into bigger battles than we can win in these next two years, then Obama will win re-election and possibly bring more liberals in on his coat-tails in Congress. This is NOT to suggest that conservatives should not be bold. It is merely to suggest that they should be smart. Simple arithmetic and basic budgeting says that making cuts too big in the middle of a half-finished fiscal year is a fool’s errand.
Do it right, build on our victories, and make it last in a bigger way. Thirty-two billion dollars just from one small portion of the budget, in just half a year, is a HUGE deal. It would amount to a major accomplishment — and set the stage for more than $100 billion of cuts in subsequent fiscal years in domestic discretionary spending alone, not to mention build credibility for savings and reforms in entitlements.
But if we do it wrong now, we play right into Obama’s hands. And if that happens, forget the future. Frances Piven’s dream will become nightmarish reality.