The Republican plans we've seen share a few basic premises. First, taxes are too high, and must be cut. Second, defense spending is too low, and should be raised. Third, major changes to entitlement programs should be passed now, but they shouldn't affect the current generation of retirees. That would all be fine, except for the fourth premise, which is that short-term deficits are a serious threat to the country and they need to be swiftly cut.
The first three budget premises means that taxes and defense will contribute more to the deficit, and Medicare and Social Security aren't available for quick savings. That leaves programs for the poor as the only major programs available to bear cuts. But now cuts to those programs have to pay for the deficit reduction, the increased defense spending, and the tax cuts. That means the cuts to those programs have to be really, really, really deep. The authors have no other choice.
Since Ezra is mostly explaining things he doesn't get into why Republicans focus on taxes, the deficit and defense. So I'll give it a shot. First, taxes are relatively low, at least by American standards. As you know, Republicans are fanatical about tax rates and ignore their effect on revenue and thus the deficit. If they lived in reality, they would understand that cutting rates doesn't raise revenue and raising rates just a bit would probably raise revenue and help the deficit.
The deficit is the next problem. Now that a Republican isn't president and they don't control all of congress they act like they care about the deficit. But they don't, or at least not for economic reasons. When they do choose to care about the deficit they do it to score political points and to signal to the public that gov't is too big and liberals are out of control. They don't care that deficit spending can help get out of recession, which is what we did, or that there was already a deficit when we decided to spend to help get out of a recession. So when Republicans talk about the deficit it's a boy who cried wolf situation.
And their dedication to more defense spending is more evidence of that. Defense spending makes up a significant proportion of the budget. That's fine. There are good reasons to have a big and powerful military. But, we outspend several of the next biggest militaries combined. We could significantly cut funding for defense and still be outspending those militaries. So cutting defense spending for the sake of helping reduce the deficit probably won't significantly hurt our military strength compared to the rest of the world. Even if it did, Republicans would need to explain why that is more important than the benefits from funding the poor.
But that's the thing, Republicans don't care about funding the poor. Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney don't. For the most part they either think it's not the government's place to help them or the poor are just a bunch of lazy people who don't deserve anyone's help. The latter is more ridiculous than the former. But I think both are fairly ridiculous. Regardless of the merits of their preference, their lack of concern for the poor is the main reason they don't mind funding their budgets by cutting stuff for the poor. If they cared they wouldn't want to increase defense spending while at the same time claiming there is a deficit crisis.
Usually I'm not big on simply looking back and playing the blame game. But the fact is we wouldn't be in the current situation if it weren't for Republicans and some Democrats during the Bush years. And they shouldn't be let off the hook for it, especially when they are so delusional that they don't think it's their fault and want to pin it on others.