Last week, I was watching the House debate over the sequester replacement bill, and was struck by the effectiveness of Chris Van Hollen’s attacks against the Republicans. Their absurd gyrations of ideological inconsistency have exposed them to pungent attacks from Democrats. Honestly it’s hard to defend them against those attacks.
Pursuant to the Budget Control Act – the absurd debt ceiling agreement from last year – $109 billion in annual across-the-board spending cuts will take effect. As we all know, half of those cuts will be incurred by Defense.
From a conservative perspective, the cuts in non-defense discretionary spending are a no-brainer. In fact those cuts are the only ancillary benefit of the debt ceiling deal. Some of the mandatory spending cuts come from the wrong place. The cuts will come from the government’s obligations to healthcare providers. This will impel many providers to dump Medicare patients, thereby forcing them into Medicaid and other Obamacare programs, which are conveniently firewalled from the sequestration process. We need wholesale Medicare reform, but until the system is reformed at the patient level, cutting payments to providers is not exactly a smart idea.
By far, the most prominent issue of the sequester is the defense budget. While all conservatives agree that there is clearly some waste in defense, random across-the-board cuts are unwise. I have no problem supporting a bill to replace the defense cuts. Then again, I never supported this ridiculous proposition in the first place. Most Republicans who are howling about the sequester did vote for it. In their push for a replacement, they beclowned themselves in the following ways:
1) The Debt Ceiling Deal: Republicans act as if the sequester is a natural disaster. They make no mention of the fact that they caused it and voted for it knowing that the sequester would take effect. They gave Obama a $2.1 trillion lifeline to get past his reelection in exchange for notional cuts. Then they created a committee charged with finding $1.2 trillion more in cuts. But the committee was designed to fail, and everyone knew that the sequester would disproportionately affect the military. So why did they vote for it? None of them ever connect the dots and apologize for voting for it. The reality is that John Boehner said that he got 98% of what he wanted from the deal. Chris Van Hollen was correct to point out that the sequester can’t be so calamitous if Boehner really thought that it was 98% good.
2) None-Defense Spending: In a classic case of mission creep, some Republicans are arguing that the sequester is bad for non-defense discretionary spending as well. Allen West even quoted Obama’s Secretary of Education in order to decry the small cuts to Obama’s record level of spending at the DOE – an agency that we believe should be abolished. What message does that send?
3) Raising Taxes: Van Hollen was able to trot out a large poster with the following quote from Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon:
“If it came that I had only two choices, one was a tax increase and one was a cut in defense over and above where we already are, I would go to strengthen defense.”
Folks, this is what we’ve done to ourselves. Republicans set us up for a disastrous debt ceiling deal that created a sequester which would engender a need for repeal. In order to extract concessions from Republicans, Democrats will force them to accept tax increases in exchange for reinstating the defense spending. Hence, we have needlessly put a gun to our head with a false choice that has driven a wedge between defense hawks and fiscal conservatives.
4) Keynesian Job Arguments: We believe in spending money on a military because we feel that there is a necessity for one and that it is within the purview of the federal government. We don’t believe in military spending because it creates jobs. Yet, Republicans have made that the centerpiece of their argument against the sequester. This allowed Van Hollen to rightfully observe the following:
“You know, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from our Republican colleagues about the recovery bill and the fact that we had to do some emergency spending to prevent the loss of millions of jobs. You know what? That worked. And here our Republican colleagues here today are saying that we’ve got to make sure the spending cuts don’t take .” […]
“I’m really glad to hear our Republican colleagues say that if we make these kinds of cuts, it’s going to result in lost jobs because you know what? You are right about that.”
Do we really want to go down this road and agree to the premise that government-spawned job creation is our goal?
We all agree that the across-the-board nature of the sequester cuts to the military are dumb. But they were enacted by the same dumb people who are pursuing its repeal. The correct path for Republicans is to admit they were wrong about the debt ceiling deal, instead of propagating Keynesian nonsense and setting us up for future tax hikes.
Cross-posted from The Madison Project