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Right Turn
Posted at 03:35 PM ET, 05/10/2012

Republican austerity or sobriety?

My colleague E.J. Dionne writes:

Right now, it’s conservatives who want to follow the Western European path of austerity that voters in France and Greece rejected last weekend. The Obama administration, by contrast, has chosen a distinctly American path that kept austerity at bay. As a result, the American economy has climbed out of the Great Recession more quickly than most of Europe.

That would make sense if Europeans had greatly curtailed spending (they haven’t) or if Republicans were embracing austerity (they aren’t). No Republican plan, for example, would have us spending less in a year or five years than we do now. It is the rate of spending that the Republicans are seeking to bend downward so as to keep the federal government at about 20 percent of GDP. That’s not austerity; That’s fiscal sobriety.

And today we see more evidence that liberals’ rhetoric about “austerity” doesn’t fit the facts. The House Budget Committee released this statement:

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5652, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, a package of reforms aimed to avert across-the-board cuts to our armed forces and key priorities, reduce the deficit, and foster a better environment for job creation. Replacing the “sequester” with sensible reductions in indefensible government spending would result in net deficit reduction of $242.8 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated his preference for allowing the sequester to hit unless Washington imposed massive tax increases on working families. Senator Reid’s position that the sequester represents a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has warned that the sequester is “unworkable” and would “hollow out” our armed forces.

Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as he did in my interview with him yesterday, explained that this is what we must do to prevent austerity measures:

Today, the House passed a series of common-sense reforms that stop the abuse of public-assistance programs, restrain the bureaucracy’s growth, and eliminate wasteful and duplicative spending. The reforms passed today will reduce the deficit by more than 400 percent of the arbitrary sequester cuts they replace.
The President and his party’s leaders are repeating Europe’s mistakes by calling for job-crushing tax increases, making empty promises to citizens, and ensuring harsh disruptions for beneficiaries of government programs. Time and again, their approach to budgeting has been the very definition of European-style austerity. House Republicans reject this shrunken vision of our future. Instead of broken promises and shared pain, we must advance pro-growth reforms that make good on America’s promise and put the country on a path to prosperity.
House Republicans took action today to ensure our troops, hardworking taxpayers, and key priorities such as cancer research and border security don’t pay the price for Washington’s failure to budget responsibly.

In essence, Ryan is saying, “You want austerity? Keep doing what we’ve been doing until we can’t sell our debt one morning.”

In this, Ryan has public opinion on his side. Voters don’t buy that we’ve cut government to the bone (granted, some are operating under the mistaken assumption that all we need to do is cut foreign aid and raise Warren Buffett’s taxes to fix our problems).

Aside from the fiscal arguments, at the heart of the sequestration argument is a simple question: Do Democrats want to “devastate” our national security? That’s Panetta’s description, after all. The Foreign Policy Initiative came out earlier this week with a statement in support of the Ryan sequestration substitute that read in part:

As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned lawmakers in a November 2011 letter, sequestration will be “devastating,” yielding “[t]he smallest ground forces since 1940,” “a fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915,” and “[t]he smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.” General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly told Congress that the sequester’s mandated reductions create “very high risk” to national security.
Although these cuts will not be implemented until January 2013, their effects will be felt almost immediately — by units preparing to fight in Afghanistan and operate elsewhere in the world. As General Dempsey has pointed out, “[S]equestration leaves me three places to go to get the money: operations, maintenance and training. That’s the definition of a hollow force.” . . .
[T]ime is running out as, in the words of Defense Secretary Panetta, the “shadow of sequestration” begins to fall on the men and women of the American military.

In short, this is not a case of Republican austerity. Republicans have a plan to bend the spending trajectory and to prevent damage to our national security. What have the Dems got? No budget. No answer for Panetta.

By  |  03:35 PM ET, 05/10/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, Budget, House Democrats

 
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