Kevin is back from vacation and wondering what the Republicans are up to:

I know conservatives hate to face up to this, and libertarians hate it even more, but the social safety net is really, really popular. You screw with it at your peril, and sometime soon it’s going to become clear that Republicans have no support for a policy that’s designed to cut back on them. The only question is, is “sometime soon” 2004 or 2008?

I agree with the premise–that social programs are very popular–but not necessarily the conclusion. Despite the rhetoric of some, I don’t see a lot of Republicans that are calling for getting rid of these programs. Instead, they’re for tax cuts AND big government. While that’s a rather irresponsible combo, it’s pretty popular. Certainly, more popular than being for big spending and against tax cuts.

While it’s true that a lot of the poll numbers seem to indicate that people don’t really want tax cuts (especially if they’re in the form of “Would you rather have a tax cut for the rich and a nickel for you at the cost of food for granny and the destruction of all mankind?”) voting has gone the other way. The Republicans, to the extent they talk about domestic programs at all, are sometimes willing to go out on a limb and advocate a restraint in their growth. But, mostly, they just ignore them entirely and hope that tax cuts will eventually create a limiting effect. Which, if the entire history of the welfare state is any indication, ain’t gonna happen.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kevin Drum says:

    Oh yeah, I agree: both tax cuts *and* social programs are popular.

    The problem is, this can’t go on forever. So what happens when we’re finally forced to make a decision and we either cut programs or raise taxes?

    It looks to me like the GOP has gotten itself so firmly allied with eternal tax cutting, that they’ll have a hard time repudiating it. At that point, they go down.

    (Unless, of course, they can pull off the magic trick of raising *payroll* taxes and somehow convincing everyone that they’ve never been against that, only all the other kinds of taxes.)

  2. Bryan says:

    Or the Republicans could admit that there is a time to cut and a time to spend. I think fiscal responsibility *and* social programs would allow Repubs to turn that trick around. Besides, GWB never said “Read my lips.”

  3. James Joyner says:


    To the extent past performance IS indicative of future results, I’d guess they’d pick option C–borrow money and pass it on to future generations. That’s what Democrats and Republicans have done for decades.

    We may be able to achieve some consensus on eliminating some giveaway programs like agricultural and other corporate subsidies. Beyond that, it’s likely to just be tweaks around the edges. Socialized medicine is clearly coming; we’re just going sector-by-sector rather than in one fell swoop.

    I think we’re going to have to do something to fix Social Security. Unfortunately, the 1990s stock bubble burst at a very inopportune time, so a free market fix isn’t feasible right now. But increasing the retirement age, especially for people engaged in other than physical labor, is something that simply has to happen. And going to 67 from 65 isn’t nearly enough.

    And I agree that tax cutting can’t go on forever. While I’d prefer to do away with income taxes entirely, in favor of some sort of consumption tax (perhaps excepting food and medicine), I don’t see any momentum in that direction right now. While I believe, in theory, that cutting taxes produces incentives to invest, the logic made more sense when the top rates were 90% or even 70% than at 35%. As tax rates flatten, the argument for further cuts gets harder to make.