You have to laugh: Right-wing groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks are determined to vote no on a budget deal not yet done or announced. My inbox is full of e-mails from them and their pet candidates (who cut and paste the same anti-budget deal argument) decrying a deal that doesn’t yet exist. That tells you all you need to know about these groups. They say they are operating off of news reports — that would be the dreaded main stream media from which they now take direction. Puleez.
Let’s begin with a few facts. The concept of replacing hobbling defense cuts with different cuts and/or mandatory cuts is one the House has supported and voted upon with the backing of these same groups. “In May, 2012 the House took an important step forward by passing a reconciliation measure that cut spending, made important reforms, and avoided the worst of the harmful defense sequester.” So said Heritage Action. In 2012 the Heritage Action argument was: “Indeed, the reconciliation measure – which is essentially a spending reduction plan – takes an important step forward. It seeks to address two pressing problems: the soaring cost of entitlement spending and the arbitrary defense cuts mandated by the so-called Budget Control Act.”
No matter. Heritage Action is now in the dog house with many Republicans, so it is not surprising it is flailing away trying to regain relevance.
Let’s keep a few things in mind as the actual deal — if there is one — comes to fruition. The test of conservatism is not adherence to a single budget sequester formula; it is whether we move in the direction of budget discipline and begin to tackle the underlying driver of the debt, mandatory spending. If the end product is greater reduction in overall spending, the beginning of mandatory spending reform, attacks on cronyism and shifts from taxpayer subsidies to user fees (e.g. airline passengers pay for airline travel, pension insurance is paid by corporations), that is all to the better. (This argument on user fees is one continually advanced by these same groups.) If the result is more cuts than we have and significantly more cuts than user fees, these groups should be leading the parade.
Most important, I would argue, is relief on the defense side. There is no question but that we are harming readiness and putting more burden on fewer troops and their families. Defense is the first priority of federal government, and if we can shift cuts from there to mandatory spending or cuts in crony spending, all the better. Understandably, anti-defense right-wingers (some of whom tried and failed in the defense authorization bill to enact changes on sexual assault that would take responsibility away from military commanders) will be peeved; those concerned about the growing threats unaddressed by President Obama should be pleased.
There is always a legitimate concern that short-term, immediate spending cuts may get traded for ephemeral cuts in mandatory spending down the road. But that, frankly, is the way mandatory spending reform works. You make small changes in the law for big payoffs later. Moreover, the idea that the sequester cuts are now “permanent” belies the argument that they, too, can be modified by a future Congress. If we change, not eliminate, the Budget Control Act to have a better mix of mandatory-to-discretionary and defense-to-domestic programs, this is a win. A big one.
What these outside groups would ask for is a repeat of September: A government shutdown (i.e. demand repeal of Obamacare for more cuts, no new revenue). That worked out so well last time, huh? These groups are blowing on the dying embers of a fire that once fueled dysfunction and burned the GOP. It’s high time they were marginalized. Let’s see what the real deal is, if we get one, and judge it on the merits.