Those Republicans who were not even in favor of the Boehner deal complain that the present bill is not sufficient to ward off tax hikes. Puleez. There is no way to prevent, aside from a Cut, Cap and Balance deal that won’t get passed, the Democrats from bringing up tax hikes. Let’s say the new bill says, “The Committee shouldn’t talk about taxes.” Well, the Democrats meet and come up with their first agenda item: “Let’s change the part of the bill that says we don’t talk about taxes.” It is juvenile to pretend you can silence the other side. But the Republicans did heavily tip the deal against tax increases in several ways.
First, the across-the-board reductions mandated in the second round of debt reduction if the super committee doesn’t reach agreement are cuts, and not revenue increases. It is ALL cuts. Second, as we explained last night, the scoring rules make it very hard to reach the needed savings in the deal with tax hikes. And finally, there is no consensus in Congress for tax hikes. The House Republicans are adamantly opposed. And guess what? The Senate Democrats don’t have the will to push for taxes either. If they did, they would have proposed their own budget.
Republicans aimed and the speaker promised not to enact tax hikes. If the Democrats want to keep pleading for tax hikes in a recession, that’s their business.
As for defense cuts, there are two consolations for Republicans. First, the second-round cuts are a backstop if no deal is reached. And second, we have a presidential election in 2012. Defense will and should be a topic of debate; a new president can decide whether he or she wants to treat defense spending like another entry on the balance sheet. As the Post editorial board writes today: “This mechanism of a trigger is by definition ugly, with across-the-board cuts substituting for ones that have been well thought out. Are deep and arbitrary cuts in military spending really advisable in the midst of operations in Afghanistan?”
But there is no hiding it: The defense cuts are the worst part of the deal for conservatives. Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton has put out a lengthy statement. He observes that significant defense cuts are possible in each of the two tranches:
For FY 2012 and 2013, cuts in defense spending remain uncertain, with reductions as much as three percent below last year’s level still possible. Depending on the outcome of further negotiations over the size and allocation of those reductions, these cuts alone may well be quite harmful. The best that can be said is that, for these fiscal years, the issue is still unresolved.
Over the longer term, the outlook is almost certainly much more disturbing. In the deal’s second stage, the yet-to-be-named Congressional Joint Commission will have wide discretion on what to agree on, but if no agreement or only partial agreement is reached, the deal’s sequestration mechanism will be triggered.
The compensation on the second is that “defense” is now defined more broadly. For example, some of the cuts in that half of the pool of money would come from Department of Homeland Security or the State Department, not the Pentagon. Bolton, however, is correct when he concludes:
There is no strategic rationale whatsoever for cuts of this magnitude. There is, in fact, every strategic rationale to the contrary. While the appropriations process may still be able to decide which specific programs will be cut, this is no consolation. Cuts of this size are effectively indiscriminate.
Defense spending is not just another wasteful government program. Subjecting it to potentially massive, debilitating cuts is rolling the dice in perilous times internationally. Adam Smith himself wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “the first duty of the sovereign” is “protecting the society from the violence and invasion” of others.
Advocates of the deal place their reliance on the Joint Committee established by the agreement to prevent massive defense cuts. This means that the Republicans selected for membership on this Committee have the future security of this country resting on their shoulders. We can only hope that the leadership chooses representatives who understand the enormity of that responsibility.
But it also means the president we select in 2012 needs to have this as an area of expertise and as a priority. So far, of the potential Republican candidates, who but Bolton himself has demonstrated this?