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Morning Plum: What the GOP budgets really tell us about the GOP economic agenda

Yesterday, the House GOP leadership successfully passed a budget that would cut $5.5 trillion in spending, repealing Obamacare, block-granting (a.k.a., cutting) Medicaid, and slashing away at food stamps, education, and many other programs. If the Senate this week passes its budget, which contains similar cuts, Republicans in both chambers will try to put them together, and hold a vote on the whole package.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at the specified and unspecified reductions in both budgets — which were required to meet the goal of balance in 10 years with zero in new revenues — and determined that each would get at least two thirds of its cuts from programs that help lower income Americans.

The budget wrangling is widely viewed as a test of whether Congressional Republicans will be able to “govern.” But it’s also interesting for what it says about the broader Republican economic agenda, which could have ramifications for 2016.

These budgets aren’t merely about purporting to get spending under control. They are also part and parcel of Republican efforts to present an inequality agenda. Many Republicans agree that the 2016 elections will be all about stagnating wages, stalled economic mobility, and the failure of the recovery to achieve more widespread distribution. The House budget documents say, again and again, that their budget is all about getting government out of the way so economic opportunity can flourish.

In other words, while they don’t quite say it this way, the GOP budgets are rooted in the idea that one of the primary obstacles to economic opportunity and mobility is that there is too much government-engineered downward redistribution of wealth. It’s reasonable to surmise that the GOP presidential candidates implicitly share this analysis. As Paul Waldman writes, many of the candidates have flirted with the idea of a flat (i.e., less progressive) tax. Ted Cruz sees the repeal of Obamacare and a flat tax as pivotal to restoring opportunity for our children. Scott Walker is flirting with the party’s most prominent supply siders. Even Jeb Bush, who is said to be the most moderate of the bunch, tacitly premised his big economic speech on the idea that the primary driver of inequality is dependence on the federal government.

Even some reformist conservatives are wondering if the 2016 GOP candidates will break out of this general posture. Politico’s Ben White reports that some of these critics are urging Jeb Bush to create an economic plan that doesn’t turn on tax cuts for the rich as a cure all, accepts the necessity of new revenues from the wealthy, and offers real solutions to the “income gap.” One hopes Bush really will break with the other GOP candidates in a meaningful way in this area. But what will Bush — and the other candidates — say about the new GOP budgets?

* CO-PILOT SOUGHT TO ‘DESTROY’ GERMANWING PLANE: Awful:

A French prosecutor said Thursday that the co-pilot of the doomed Germanwing flight appeared to want to “destroy the plane,” in a stunning twist to the investigation that shifted attention to a possible suicide dive that killed all 150 people aboard. The statement came after reports that the recovered cockpit voice recorder indicated the pilot was locked out of the cockpit before the A320 slammed into the French Alps on Tuesday.

Our condolences go out to the victims’ families and loved ones, who must be enduring unspeakable horror right now.

* REPUBLICANS PREPARE SUPER SECRET ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE: National Journal reports on efforts by Senate Republicans to create the impression that they have a contingency plan for the millions of people who would lose subsidies if the Supreme Court guts them on the federal exchanges, an apparent effort to make that ruling easier. This is amusing:

Their first step will be to propose freezing enrollment exactly where it is. No one would be forced to drop an ACA health plan even if they can’t get subsidies to pay their premiums. Congress will provide, Republicans say. At least for 18 months or so. The next step comes in 2017, when a new president is ushered in. Under this master plan, a GOP Congress will then put forth a market-based health care proposal. In theory, it won’t matter whether the White House is occupied by a Republican or a Democrat. The GOP’s Obamacare “replacement” will be the only solution available.

“Congress will provide”? Will conservatives really agree to any scheme that spends federal money to keep the subsidies going, rather than insisting on allowing the exchanges to collapse? Doubtful. Expect massive finger-pointing among Republicans to erupt over who should fix the mess from any such ruling.

* TOM COTTON DEMANDS MORE DEFENSE SPENDING: Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio publish a new piece this morning railing against the sequester caps on defense spending, which were put in place by the Budget Control Act:

Our highest priority during the ongoing budget debate should be undoing the damage caused by defense sequestration and the hundreds of billions of dollars of defense cuts made by the Obama administration…Until now, our approach as a country and a party since the Budget Control Act has not been one of American strength. Continuing on the current path will only invite war and conflict through weakness.

But if that’s what you think, isn’t the answer to repeal the sequester?

* RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES SEARCH FOR ALTERNATIVE TO JEB BUSH: The New York Times has an interesting look at the efforts underway among social conservative and Christian right leaders to find a way to coalesce behind an alternative to Jeb Bush. The idea is that they need a candidate who will really fight against gay marriage and abortion. They also believe this old chestnut: “Republicans did not win the White House in the past two elections because their nominees were too moderate and failed to excite the party’s base.”

Debatable, but okay. Now watch as Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee jockey for the honor. I wouldn’t rule out Scott Walker (the son of a Baptist preacher) making a play for some of these leaders, too.

* AMERICANS THINK HILLARY’S EMAIL USE WAS INAPPROPRIATE, BUT… A new CBS News poll finds that more than six in 10 Americans do not think Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email for her Secretary of State work was appropriate, but at the same time, 65 percent say their opinion of her has not changed. That latter finding is a reminder that Clinton has been thoroughly vetted for decades, and that, barring major revelations, shift impressions of her with drip-drip-drip info might prove challenging.

* WHY TED CRUZ’S ENTRY IS GREAT NEWS FOR BUSH: E.J. Dionne explains that Cruz has now entered the competition with Scott Walker for conservative voters, potentially dividing them while Bush scoops up a big share of the moderate Republicans:

Cruz’s entry is thus very good news for Bush. Cruz has as much interest in taking Walker down as Bush does, and the more right-of-center candidates there are on the ballot come next year, the better Bush’s chances will be….Cruz has just turned the battle for the political souls of religious conservatives into the first bloody crossroads of the GOP’s struggle. And Scott Walker needs to watch his back.

No wonder Walker is lurching to the right on immigration and boasting of his prowess and heroism in crushing liberals and labor in his home state.

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