You Can’t Get There From Here

Tight BudgetKudos to David Brooks for writing a second column on the Sequester, and opening with a sincere apology for the first one. Brooks initially and erroneously claimed that Obama had no plan on the table to avoid the imminent Sequester, but then corrected himself to admit that, rather, he simply didn’t like the plan Obama had. That’s never an easy haul for anyone.

But then he goes on to lay out his 3-point plan that he would like to see Obama push to resolve the current impasse.

  1. Take entitlement spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to invest in the young and the struggling.
  2. Enact a value-added tax, use money from that tax to finance an income tax exemption.
  3. Talk obsessively about family structure and social repair to restitch the social fabric.

None of these are bad ideas, but none of them remotely address the current threat of Sequestration. Number 1 simply redirects funds, and so has a net neutral budget impact. Number 2 is not only budget-neutral, but requires a substantial retooling of the tax code. The details of this sort of reform take years to work out. There’s no way this would have any impact on the budget crisis du jour. And number 3 has no direct budget impact at all.

This also doesn’t address the unfortunate reality that the GOP base simply isn’t interested in solving this problem.  As Ezra Klien points out, the available deal is a far bigger gain for the Republican agenda than Sequestration. The White House is willing to cut the deficit, cut entitlements, protect defense spending, and eliminate tax loopholes as part of a settlement plan. While this does nothing to lower tax rates, it still rings the bell on 4 of the 5 major budget policy objectives on the right.

Doing nothing only cuts the deficit, and then by not as much as Obama’s current proposal. It does nothing about entitlements, tax loopholes, or tax rates. Not to mention, it significantly cuts defense. So what does the GOP win by standing firm on their plan to sit idly by?

Obviously they don’t win on achieving their stated policy agenda. They don’t win on popularity either. A plurality (49%) of Americans say the Sequester will be Republicans’ fault if it happens, while only 31% will blame Obama.

The only possible win here is personal and political. Each of the obstinate Congressmen and Senators will be able to return home and claim they denied Obama everything he ever wanted, and refused to budge even an inch in compromise. And while I’m forced to accept that there exist districts where this message plays well, I worry about the state of our society that it does.

Nonetheless, it further dooms Brooks’ plan. As a pundit on the right, he surely must realize that getting the GOP base to support something, and having the President advocate for something, are pretty much mutually exclusive.

Two things are clear. First, the Sequester is exactly what the GOP base wants to happen. Second, no deal Obama could put on the table would change that. Food for thought as you decide who gets the blame. Yet small comfort as you settle in for the Sequester induced economic recession.

Women at Gunpoint

Planned ParenthoodWe narrowly averted a government shutdown Friday over what basically boiled down to funding for Planned Parenthood.  What’s clear from the guests on the Sunday talk shows this morning is that this issue will rise once again when we get to debate the debt ceiling in the coming months.

The notion this is remotely a fiscal issue is beyond comical.  The total Title X outlay for Planned Parenthood is about $80 million per year, which is not even noise in the scope of the federal budget.

To their credit, the GOP has been reasonably direct about this being an attempt to restrict abortion.  Yet abortion only amounts to about 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, and the Hyde Amendment already makes it illegal for any federal funds to be used for any abortion related activity.

To that end, opponents have been arguing that defunding Planned Parenthood to keep federal monies from being used for abortion is redundant.  The Republican response has been that the funds are fungible.  That is, once Planned Parenthood gets the money, they can’t assure how it will be used.  And while Planned Parenthood could certainly be held accountable after the fact for misusing funds, they need to make 100% sure up front that there is no illegal use.

The right’s desire to prevent loss of life at all costs rather than prosecute it after the fact is laudable. So it can only be assumed they would also support banning guns.  After all, much like the Planned Parenthood funds, guns have legitimate and beneficial purposes.  However, it’s possible to use them illegally as well.  Once guns are out there, their use is fungible.  In order to be 100% sure no one does anything illegal with a gun, clearly they must be banned.

After all, a good argument is a good argument.  If this is the game they want to play, let’s go all in.