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A Deal on Budget Cuts? A Few Thoughts.

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George Stephanopoulos is reporting that “budget negotiators on Capitol Hill have tentatively agreed on a deal that would involve at least $33 billion in spending cuts from this year’s budget.” If true, this would amount to ” $23 billion…more than Democrats have previously agreed to in short-term continuing resolutions, and $28 billion less than Republicans previously passed in the House.” However, Stephanopoulos also reports that the deal “could still fall apart over the composition of the cuts, or policy ‘riders’ previously passed by the House” on Planned Parenthood funding, the new health care law, the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Air Act, etc.

My thoughts on all this? First, elections have consequences, and the Teapublicans won the last round, unfortunately. Given the changing power balance in Washington, DC, there’s no doubt that Democrats were going to be forced into negotiations on the budget, on raising the debt ceiling, etc., with John Boehner and Company. No surprise there, and no reason to get particularly upset about it particularly. That’s life in politics, after you just got “shellacked” in the House but also still control the White House and the Senate. Cue “the making of sausage” – nasty, ugly, but the way our government generally works.

Second, there’s nothing at all wrong with addressing the long-term, structural budget deficit. In fact, I strongly support doing that, as I don’t believe these projected deficits are healthy for our country’s future. That means, of course, going where the money is – rapidly rising health care costs; the exorbitantly expensive ($4 TRILLION per decade!) Bush tax cuts; to some extent the military budget, corporate welfare of all kinds; etc.

Third, there IS something wrong with pretending to deal with the long-term, structural budget deficit by excluding the 85% or so of the budget that isn’t “non-defense discretionary.” To put it another way, we should not – repeat, NOT – be attempting to fix the long-term, structural budget deficit, something that has essentially nothing to do with “non-defense discretionary” spending, by whacking “non-defense discretionary” spending. That’s just stupid.

Fourth, given political reality, and specifically the Teapublicans’ obsessive focus on just 15% of the budget – the part that isn’t part of the long-term, structural deficit – Democrats clearly are going to have to compromise to an extent. However, those compromises should be absolutely minimal. Instead, Democrats should be pushing to slash tens of billions of dollar per year from the budget in subsidies to oil companies, Big Agriculture, etc. Democrats also should be looking to cut wasteful spending on weapons systems we don’t need. And Democrats should be talking about the $400 billion a year cost of the Bush tax cuts, not because it’s politically feasible right now to repeal them, but because the public needs to be informed about the magnitude of how much money those things cost (4 times the tea partiers’ goal of $100 billion in cuts this year).

Finally, Democrats should absolutely refuse to allow any of these crazy “policy riders” to become law as part of budget negotiations, or for any other reason for that matter. Defunding Planned Parenthood is unacceptable. Stripping the EPA of its authority to enforce the Clean Air Act is wildly, outrageously unacceptable. Defunding the new health care law — ditto. Frankly, if Republicans are really hell-bent on shutting down the government to prove that they’re a bunch of extremists, then fine, let ’em do it. But my guess is that the uneasy Republican/Tea Party coalition will start to splinter – we already appear to be seeing signs of that – when there’s a budget deal in reach that is being blocked only by crazy and unrelated “policy riders.”

The question is, how skillful are Democratic negotiators, how much backbone do they have, and how many emails and phone calls are they getting from grassroots Democrats bucking them up and telling them what they need to be doing? I guess we’ll find out soon enough, as there’s only about another week to reach a budget deal – or not, and shut down the government. Stay tuned…and call your congresscritter! 🙂