The NPR Vote and Understanding the Budget
Republican budget cuts to this point have been less than serious.
To partially follow one point from Doug Mataconis’ post about the apparent lack of seriousness on the part of Congressional Republicans in regards to fiscal matters. Whether one thinks that austerity is needed or whether one thinks it is needed now, later, or gradually over time, the fact of the matter is that the GOP has rigorously argued that we need to cut NOW and we need to do so deeply.
Ok, so let’s judge a political party based on a combination of its rhetoric and its actions (with a further understanding that political reality deserves a place in such an evaluation as well). As such I would say that while the House Republicans have managed to do some cutting, as promised, at least in term of the continuing resolutions for this year’s fiscal cycle, I have been underwhelmed by the level of actual seriousness behind said actions. What I find especially striking about this is not just that I remain unconvinced that the GOP has a viable plan for addressing the real fiscal issues ahead, but that nevertheless, a lot of supporters of the GOP seem to think that things like cutting NPR actually do amounts to “doing something” about long-term fiscal issues.
Look, I understand the notion that a trip of 1,000 miles requires a first step, but the notion that cutting $10 million (the estimated savings from the NPR move) actually puts us on a road to dealing with, say, the long term costs of Medicare, is like saying walking from my dining room to the back of my house gets me closer to visiting my sister in Southern California. Technically, it’s true, but you would think I was crazy to assert that I had started a trip from Alabama to California with such a move. Further, the folly of my plan would come clear when I reached my back fence and declared that I had started the first leg of my journey and would figure out the rest later.
And yet, I see people greeting the proposed cuts to NPR as though they really are a legitimate first step towards a remade fiscal regime in Washington. For example, a commenter here at OTB likened it to a family with a job loss cutting out the cable as luxury that could no longer be afforded. Setting aside the question of whether the ol’ “government is like a family” metaphor has validity, let me suggest that the better analogy for the relative savings of the NPR cuts would be that the family fixed a slight drip in the kitchen sink to save a few pennies on the water bill per year.
In other words: I don’t think people, on balance, have any idea about the sums of money involved here or what needs to be done both in terms of spending and revenue. This is evident every time we see a poll noting that we should cut foreign aid to help with the budget without any understanding whatsoever about how little, relative to the budget, that line actually is. So instead of actual debate about these these we get ideological paeans that satisfy key constituents who can pretend “something is being done” when, in fact, it isn’t.
Again: I can accept the notion that small cuts are needed and that perhaps there are things that the federal government ought no be doing (or that we cannot afford for it to continue to do). However, we need to understand the relative fiscal consequences of these moves and to be honest about what the numbers mean.