Democratic Death Spiral?

A Democrat sees doom and gloom as far as the eye can see.

Bernard Finel asks “Will the Dems Cave?” as a rhetorical question. He’s a Democrat, or at last anti-Republican, and doesn’t see much good news on the horizon.

First, you have the Bush tax cuts. Republicans will pass a permanent extension in the House; they will almost certainly be able to command a majority in the Senate as well. So, will Senate Democrats be willing to filibuster the bill? Because that is the last firebreak. By late Spring, the GOP race will be settled (Romney almost certainly the nominee), and the electoral math is going to suddenly come sharply into focus. Take the Obama states from 2008, adjust for census, then adjust for the fact that Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia are not going to be in play, and what people are going to realize is that Obama has precisely one path to reelection, and that it runs through Pennsylvania, but the point is that it will be very, very, very tight, and there is no way Obama is going to hold firm on allowing what will be portrayed as the “biggest tax hike in history” to occur. Senate Dems will realize that, and without top cover, they won’t have stomach to filibuster.

Obama has tried to keep the Bush tax cuts with the exception of the topmost bracket, something even I support. He’s framed it as “Making those who have done well pay their fair share.” The polls seem to show that he’s getting the better of the argument. No matter, though, Republican intransigence is winning the day and not seeming to cost them any support.

Second, you have defense cuts. Same dynamic will apply. Again, there is no way Dems hold the line. They can barely keep Panetta in line as is!

I’m actually not so sure on this one. While the harsh cuts supposedly mandated by sequestration process almost certainly won’t go through, there’s little choice but to make pretty steep cuts. Our budget is bursting at the seams and we’re spending a ridiculous amount on Defense. Then again, as Bernard has argued elsewhere, neglect and mismanagement in recent years means we’ve got a lot of very expensive weapons systems that need replacing.

Third, Doc fix and AMT adjustment will already have been taken care of certainly. But this will worsen deficit projections making everything else more complicated.

I’m skeptical on doc fix, which is a screwed up way of doing what likely has to be done but can’t through the front door. And I despise AMT with a purple passion but most people don’t understand it, so it’s one way to raise revenues without overtly hiking taxes.

Fourth, you have a jobs bill/stimulus. Look, Dems should be able to win on this issue… but they won’t. They’ve already proceeded too far down the austerity path, and committed themselves too publicly to deficit reduction to pivot effectively here.

Add to that the perception that the last stimulus was a massive boondoggle . . . yeah.

Fifth, health care. I’m really not sure what will happen here. Almost certainly Supreme Court is going to take a nice, big hack at the health care law. They’ll probably invalidate the individual mandate on some sort of narrow ground, leaving law technically fixable. But regardless of how they decide on severability, Obama will have no leverage to pass the fixes to bring law into compliance with the Supreme Court decision.

As I’ve noted before, I think the Dems win on this one in the medium term and win big. I mean single payer big. I just don’t see how anything else is sustainable much longer.

But, once the Bush tax cuts are permanent, you’ve more or less locked in the dismantling of existing entitlements. Whether it happens in Romney’s first terms, or somewhere down the road, is an open question. And here is the perverse part. Gutting entitlements will murder the GOP electorally for a decade or more… but that doesn’t really matter because once they are gone, our massive debt overhang will make reconstituting them impossible. And just as Presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon ended up expanding and institutionalizing the welfare state, it will fall to Democrats to institutionalize the post-entitlement order.

I just don’t see it. Social Security and Medicaid aren’t going away and we’re aging rapidly. And, again, I think massive socialization of the healthcare sector is inevitable. Further, the Great Recession means that huge swaths of the population have been on unemployment assistance and/or fear that they’ll need it in the future. The base for entitlements is bigger than it’s been in some time.

And why are we going to get to this outcome? Because for 30 years now, the GOP has pursued a consistent approach — cuts taxes by promising that revenues will increase as a result, squeeze the budget by starving the government of revenue and diverting increasing amounts to interest payment, prevent entitlement reform to ensure that the programs becomes less and less sustainable. That is the power of the long view, which the Democrats with their fetish for tactics — triangulating, pivoting, etc — just don’t have.

I’m not sure whether I agree that Republicans have been craftier or more steadfast than Democrats over the longer term. Regardless, Bernard and I both agree that the Republican Party is going to face a crisis at some point relatively soon because of the reckless unsustainability of a fetish for cutting taxes and massive defense spending and a renewed interest in balanced budgets.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MBunge says:

    Jonathan Chait has a great, and I mean GREAT, piece in New York Magazine explaining how and why Democrats and liberals like Bernard Finel live in a state of perpetual anguish and disappointment any time a Democrat is in the White House. It helps explain how people like Finel can look at the state the GOP is in today and find something to admire.

    I mean, let’s imagine the GOP wins big in 2012. Let’s even imagine they win historically and get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. What exactly are they going to do about the problems facing America, both domestically and around the world?

    Mike

  2. ponce says:

    Republican intransigence is winning the day and not seeming to cost them any support.

    Really?

    Congressional Republicans have fallen from a 10% lead in Rasmussen’s generic poll to a draw with the Democrats in the 10 months they’ve controlled the House.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/generic_congressional_ballot

  3. Anderson says:

    @MBunge: What exactly are they going to do about the problems facing America, both domestically and around the world?

    Invade Iran, presumably.

  4. john personna says:

    No matter, though, Republican intransigence is winning the day and not seeming to cost them any support.

    I’d go with congressional approval ratings to counter this. We are at around 12% approval, right?

  5. anjin-san says:

    Invade Iran, presumably.

    That should fix everything.

  6. Blue Shark says:

    @MBunge:
    “I mean, let’s imagine the GOP wins big in 2012”.
    Well that will mean another ten years of George W. Bush level of talent in Washington (God-forbid)
    Meanwhile other countries (China, Brazil, India) are eating our country for lunch.
    We are in a world of hurt here in America.
    Even if Obama is re-elected, does anybody, and I mean ANYBODY expect anything different from the dysfunction of the past three years.
    As long as there is no political price to pay for the ideology-at-all-costs, anti-science, Media-slanted lying, mind-numbing stupidity, nothing is going to change.
    Unfortunately All Americans, Red and Blue are paying that price already.

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    @MBunge:

    What exactly are they going to do about the problems facing America, both domestically and around the world?

    This is why (for now) I will probably vote Obama. The Republicans have no better an understanding of the economy than the president or his team do, so the heaping pile of stupid, bigotry and hate the GOP has on its side automatically makes them the worse choice.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    Who the F’ is Finel??

  9. Hey Norm says:

    It amazes me that everyone assumes the guy that beat the Clintons, passed Health Care, got OBL, and turned the Debt Ceiling debacle to his advantage, hasn’t thought all of this through. Think rope-a-dope. Think long game. Think Meep-Meep.

  10. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Hey Norm: I don’t disagree with you but what does he do in the second term? He’s lame duck and others in his party will be trying to make their mark at his expense. Does he have the backing to go further?

  11. Blue Shark says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Must explain why Mr. Eleventh Dimensional Chess playing in a checkers tournament has underwater approval numbers.

    It is unfathomable that such a brilliant orator has not had message discipline at any time during his presidency.

  12. Hey Norm says:

    @ Prosser…
    I really haven’t thought about it…but what needs doing?
    The Republican debt needs further shrinking.
    The slowly recovering economy needs more recovering.
    The middle east is still f’ed up and the Republican answer is to bomb Iran.
    I think there’s plenty to do.
    Are you suggesting he quit like Palin did?

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Who the F’ is Finel??

    Bernard is a long time and well respected commenter here, Norm. I know you know him.

  14. Drew says:

    “Our budget is bursting at the seams and we’re spending a ridiculous amount on Defense. Then again, as Bernard has argued elsewhere, neglect and mismanagement in recent years means we’ve got a lot of very expensive weapons systems that need replacing.”

    I’d be very interested in both James’ and Bernard’s more specific views on this, as I have basically zero expertise. What does “ridiculous” mean?” And where should the cuts come? Neat but stupid exotic weapons systems? Foreign bases? Domestic bases? Overhead? Overall force level? James once quipped (my words) that defense could be cut by 50%. That sounds awfully high, but is that actually a reasonable expectation?

    Separately. Taxing to fix the budget problem is just a fool’s errand. Dave S has done a good job at quantifying state and fed budget shortfalls relative to taxes required to bridge the gap. No chance. Just no chance. And that does not even consider the revenue killing effects of said tax increases. We might as well just pull out a gun and shoot our collective Johnson’s off.

    We face the withdrawal effects of an alcoholic after a 40 year binge. We want an easy solution – and oh by the way – a solution borne by someone else…….but those accustomed to the subsidy fix are going to have to come to grips with a new reality. The pols know this, but will never admit this. Its political suicide. Will the voters?

    Its all on the voters. Its all on the voters, people.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Hey Norm:

    And Norm, I hope you are right… meeep meep.

  16. While the harsh cuts supposedly mandated by sequestration process almost certainly won’t go through

    Is “harsh” really an accurate description of the sequestration cuts, given that they don’t actually reduce defense spending, merely slowing the expected rate of growth?

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    Bernard is a long time and well respected commenter here, Norm. I know you know him.

    lol……I do…

  18. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Of course not, I was thinking more of big moves; stimulus, jobs programs, infrastructure repair, etc. Will he have the backing to do more than what he has accomplished or will others, looking toward 2016 try and make their own marks at his expense?

  19. Hey Norm says:

    @ Prosser…
    Also much depends on what happens with Congress, who’s approval is threatening to go into negative numbers.

  20. Liberty60 says:

    @Anderson: @MBunge: What exactly are they going to do about the problems facing America, both domestically and around the world?

    Invade Iran, presumably.

    I may add-

    Cut taxes

    Increase Defense spending

    Ban abortion

    Cut taxes some more.

    Outlaw sodomy.

    Put Reagan on Mt. Rushmore.

    Cut taxes once more.

    Make Jefferson Davis’ birthday a national holiday.

    That should pretty much do it.

  21. Drew says:

    @Liberty60:

    Stupid; just intelectually light.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    Our financial system is in a death spiral and there is nothing either party can do about it. The economy, our civilization, is lubricated with cheap oil and while there is plenty of oil left the cheap stuff is all gone. Without cheap energy we won’t see any significant economic growth. Without economic growth the debt can’t be repaid. The good old days are not coming back. I suspect that many politicians know this but they won’t tell you if they want to get reelected.

  23. Racehorse says:

    @Liberty60: Some of your ideas aren’t bad.

  24. Lomax says:

    The Democrats and Republicans are totally lacking in statesmanship that I grew up around. These were real leaders: Truman, Mansfield, Ervin, Humphrey, Goldwater, Hatfield, Baker, and John Connally, to name a few. Today, I can’t think of any.
    This is Thanksgiving. I am thankful to live in a free country. One of the freedoms that I enjoy is the internet. There are many countries that would imprison me for some of the things I say.
    I am thankful to you people for putting up with some of my crazy thoughts and opinions. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Poli sci prof, friend of this site, sometime guest poster on this site (IIRC).

  26. Liberty60 says:

    @Drew:
    Of course they’re stupid ideas!

    Thats why I fight against them. Sheesh.

  27. Lomax says:

    @Ron Beasley: Cheap oil? Where I live, it cost over $50 to fill up my little Honda. I can hardly afford to drive to work, the grocery stores, or Christmas shopping. How I’m going to have a vacation this summer is a real problem. These gas prices are having a huge effect on business, travel, and the whole economy. Mass transit is not an option where I live. Neither is electrical vehicles. Hydrogen looks promising, but still way in the future.

  28. Ron Beasley says:

    @Lomax: That’s the point I was trying to make. The cheap oil is ancient history. Transportation will be the first victim and the economy as we have known it is dependent on cheap transportation. The good old days will not return. Areas without a mass transportation system and rail service will be the first to suffer.

  29. sam says:

    Don’t mind me. Just testing new browser.

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    The entire Democratic establishment is thinking long game. That is why the Democrats support open borders, unlimited immigration coupled with ethnicity-based governance and a high level of entitlements.

    The only problems that the Republicans are not thinking about is whether the U.S. will be able to generate the private sector economic activity to fund all of the programs that the Democrats are promising.

    What will the millions of people who lose their jobs in health care, defense, energy, manfacturing, transportation, and finance do in the future America. Why have a massive education system when there are few jobs that require an education. Can we all be social workers to take care of the large number of dysfunctional citizens?

  31. tyndon clusters says:

    @Superdestroyer,

    You are so right, how the hell can our corporations which just posted record profits in the third quarter and the Dow Jones which has gone up 40% since Jan. 09 possibly prosper under our
    Kenyan Marxist dictator who hates America?

    When will the ignorant brain dead right wingers with 30 years of failed “worship the rich and gut gov’t” shut the f$F$uck up and let the liberals once again come to the aid of the economy?

  32. superdestroyer says:

    @tyndon clusters:

    the U.S. had a enemic economic growth for four years and had near double digit unemployment for three years. Why do Marxist believes that there can be private sector employees without private sector employers. The stock market had been sideways for four years. The increase since Jan 09 is just the bounce after the collapse in 08. If you pick the absolute lowest point, it makes the market recovery look better. However, the DJIA was higher in Mid-2007 than it is now. Thus, companies are not investing in the U.S. because there is no reason to invest in the U.S.

    Couple the current Democratic Administration with the changing demographics of the U.S. and there is little reason to believe that the U.S. will ever have a strong recovery.

  33. Barry says:

    Let’s look around the web:

    He’s a CATO ‘scholar’.

    From his blog (http://www.bernardfinel.com/):

    ‘We Need a Balanced Budget Amendment’

    ‘On Rummy and Iraq’ (he suports Rumsfeld over Gates)

    ‘The Logic of Iranian Nukes’

    And a few other mixed – some centrist (maybe liberal).

  34. Eric Florack says:

    @MBunge:

    I mean, let’s imagine the GOP wins big in 2012. Let’s even imagine they win historically and get a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. What exactly are they going to do about the problems facing America, both domestically and around the world?

    That depends on the republicans in question. If we’re talking about real conservatives, they will do the right thing and reduce the size and scope of government. Thus not only creating an economic boon but solving a lot of fiscal problems within the government as well. If on the other hand we end up with moderates like Romney, they won’t do a damn thing. Which, I should add, is precisely why he’s such a favorite among the leftist media.