Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The real goal behind the Republican tactics

I came across an interesting analysis of the debt ceiling debate when reading The Dish. It comes from a reader who says this:

I think it is helpful when conservative columnists like David Brooks write these columns calling out the fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP. But one continuing and crucial problem made by Brooks and most others is to pretend that this Republican behavior is motivated by a quasi-theological desire not to raise taxes, and that this anti-tax position is threatening a debt default or massive spending cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare, the EPA, the SEC, etc. To the contrary, gutting these popular social programs and regulatory agencies is the end goal pursued by Republicans here and insisting on no new revenues (while demanding trillions of spending cuts) is the tactic Republicans have adopted to achieve these specific goals.

It is certainly true that Republicans want to end those programs mentioned. Not only do they talk about doing so, they have actually tried to do so, most recently with Paul Ryan's budget that passed the House. But do they not also want to not raise taxes? I'm not sure that is simply a tactic they are using in order to achieve the higher goals of ending entitlement programs rather than an important goal in and of itself. The reader goes on:


Indeed, the lunacy of framing this debt ceiling standoff as being about Republican "intransigence on taxes" is demonstrated by the fact that no meaningful proposal to raise taxes is even on the table for Republicans to oppose. So, David Brooks is left to scratch his head in puzzlement about the Republican approach, but only because he pretends that this stand-off is really about taxes and not the Republican's long stated goal to gut social programs and regulatory agencies.

Republicans ability to frame the media debate around their tactics, rather than their goals, has been doubly effective. Not only has it obscured what is really being fought over, but the average person who is not a political junkie just hears that Republicans are really hard-assed about keeping taxes low. That sounds reasonable, no?

Again, I think it is correct to say that Republicans have succeeded in framing this debate in the way they want it framed. And I seriously question the way Obama has handled it. Some have argued, and I have certainly thought, that Obama should be more forceful in his public comments. He should probably play more hardball and not simply start off from a point of making concessions. I think that would help but I'm not sure it would completely solve the problem. In the end Republicans would have to decide to balk, and I'm not totally sure they would.

But that brings me back to the real goal of the Republicans. Why are they complaining about a proposal to raise taxes? Is it because they want to use continued lower taxes to indirectly cut into and eventually end entitlements? Or do they simply not want higher taxes?

Let's go back to the Bush years when Republicans controlled the gov't. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security. That barely got off the ground. How about Medicare? They added to it, not cut it. Medicaid is only under attack after state budget got all messed up. I don't recall it being discussed much then. And while agencies like the EPA are under attack, they weren't dismantled and I doubt they will be even if Republicans gain control of everything in 2012. Of course, there is the Paul Ryan budget, which would end Medicare. But if that was such an important goal why wasn't that proposed when it actually had the chance of passing under Bush? I guess its possible the party has become more radical since 2008. But I have a hard time believing that same bill gets passed through a Republican controlled Senate and White House.

The one thing Republicans did do under Bush was cut taxes. Why were they able to do that but not achieve their underlying goals of dismantling entitlements? Cutting taxes polls well whereas cutting SS, Medicare, and Medicaid doesn't. And Republicans are well aware of that, just look at how they used the cuts in Medicare against the Democrats in the last election. Note also that none of those entitlements were touched in the last budget that was passed. Its possible that Republicans view the debt ceiling as a more high stakes game where they can gain more than they could from the budget debate. But they would also stand to lose more if they couldn't get Democrats to agree to do what they want, which only indirectly affects the entitlement programs they want to get rid of.

Having said all of that, I don't want to underestimate their desire to end those programs. I just don't think that goal is so important to them that everything they do is aimed at ending them or that they would be able to follow through even if they had the power to do so. It seems to me that they are scared enough by the popularity of those programs by the electorate that they won't follow through unless something changes. Meanwhile, they pursue tax cuts at every corner and have no problem passing them into law when they have the means. And in my view its results that count. So based on the evidence I'd have to say that tax cuts (or resisting tax increases) in and of itself is a real goal of Republicans. And I think it would part of their tactics even if huge cuts to entitlements were likely.

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