All gimmicks, all the time (the GOP budget plan)

January 31, 2013

The debt limit increase made it through the Senate today, passing by a comfortable margin. But along the way we got yet another good example of where the Republicans really are on budget issues.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (Jonathan Ernst /Reuters)
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Greg’s been talking a lot about the convoluted Republican position on government spending: There’s too much of it, but cutting spending (via the sequester) would be bad for the economy, but cutting spending is absolutely essential, except for cuts on any specific, substantial program.

The logical result of all this muddle is a full-on embrace of … budget gimmicks. Not real spending cuts, certainly not real tax increases, and no willingness to accept the deficits that are the result of their actual spending and tax preferences. No, gimmicks.

And an excellent example of that today was provided by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is allegedly some sort of Republican budget guru, having served as a director of the Office of Management and Budget. Fine, it was under George W. Bush, so it’s more like having been batting coach to that Arizona Diamondback team a couple of years ago that shattered all the team records for strikeouts, but still.

At any rate: Portman proposed two amendments to the debt limit increase today on the Senate floor, which of course already contained the gimmicky requirement that the House and Senate must pass budget resolutions or else members of Congress won’t be paid (and, at any rate, the entire idea of a confrontation over the debt limit is a gimmick, not real budgeting). Portman’s Gimmick No. 1, which we’ve seen before from Republicans, was a requirement that spending be cut exactly the same amount that the debt limit goes up (How? Nothing from the senator from Ohio). Portman’s Gimmick No. 2 was a new proposal that in the event of a failure to pass appropriations bills, the government would run indefinitely on autopilot, but with automatic spending cuts kicking in over time. Both amendments were defeated, both on near party-line votes.

My favorite part of all this was that Portman told National Review’s Robert Costa that his model for these amendments was the Reagan-era Gramm-Rudman-Hollings process, a budget gimmick which, that’s right, utterly failed to do anything about the deficit.

Again: nothing at all about which specific spending cuts Republicans think are needed.

The bottom line is that if you want to cut deficits — and I’m not saying that should be the goal, but if you do — what you need to do is to propose real budgets with real revenue increases and/or real spending cuts. There’s no magic gimmick out there that will make it all happen by itself. Trying to find one is either a sign of foolishness or of just trying to score cheap rhetorical points.

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Jonathan Bernstein | January 31, 2013