Scott Spiegel

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First Rule of Good Governance: Never Negotiate with Democrats

April 06, 2011 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Economy

Tug Of War - Colour Edit

Image by tj.blackwell via Flickr

On Saturday President Obama magnanimously announced that he was willing to support cutting $33 billion from 2010 federal spending levels for 2011—which, for the mathematically challenged, is about 1% of infinity.

Congressional Democrats screamed that these cuts were way too large.  Republicans countered that the cuts didn’t go far enough and should be extended to $61 billion, which amounts to about 2% of infinity.

With current spending set to run out this week, the federal government faces a shutdown on Friday night unless Congress can agree on which of these piddly sums to cut from the budget.

Tea party supporters have been rightly insulted by these farcical negotiating positions, arguing that hundreds of billions could be saved just by, for example, eliminating redundant programs.

As Rasmussen reports, a majority of Americans haven’t been snookered into thinking these microscopic doses of fiscal austerity will do a thing to address our long-term budget crisis.

Meanwhile, the only Congressman clear-eyed enough to appreciate the extent of the crisis, knowledgeable enough to propose a plan to resolve it, and brave enough to stand up for his proposal in the face of Republican wishy-washiness—namely, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan—and also not crazily isolationist on foreign policy (Ron and Rand Paul) has offered a blueprint called “A Path to Prosperity,” modeled after his 2008 “Roadmap for America’s Future.”

Ryan’s plan proposes phasing out Medicare by replacing it with vouchers and turning it over to the states, making major changes to Medicaid, and taking similar action with Social Security after these two behemoths have been wrestled to the ground.

The central irony of Ryan’s stance is that, as he claims, his is the only proposal that will help “save” these programs, whereas current entitlement obligations will, if continued at their present levels, lead to eventual insolvency.

While Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security are unsustainable, unconstitutional Ponzi schemes, and while our country somehow managed to survive 189 and 159 years respectively without them, I suppose we need to start somewhere.  I guess a Budget Chairman who wants to drastically reform these albatrosses in order to save them is as good a start as we’re going to get nowadays from a political standpoint.

Ryan’s plan proposes cutting $5 trillion from the national debt over the next decade, and eventually eliminating the national debt, all without raising taxes.

On Tuesday, Obama rejected a third stopgap offer from House Majority Leader John Boehner to keep the government open another week while budget negotiations continue.

Obama’s right—we shouldn’t settle for on-the-fly, seat-of-our-pants, week-by-week spending plans.  Republicans should hold their ground and not be afraid to shut the government down on Friday.

Some who claim to favor entitlement reform have counseled House Republicans to compromise with Democrats on this week’s negotiations, so that Democrats will work with them later on more substantial cuts like Ryan’s.  The Chicago Tribune counsels, “Better to declare victory at $33 billion, or whatever more Republicans can wrest from Democrats, and move on to the bigger picture.  Because sanity in federal spending isn’t going to be restored by dealing in billions.  It’s going to be restored by dealing in trillions…  A deal today on discretionary spending could lay the foundation for bipartisan agreement on the far more impactful issue of entitlements.”

So giving in to Democrats will create goodwill and set the stage for larger-scale cuts, whereas shutting down the government will cause Democrats to dig in further and resist compromise later on.

One question: Since when did Democrats respond to Republican compromise with magnanimous, reciprocal behavior?

Sensing that they’re about to win on the shutdown, dyed-in-the-wool leftists like E. J. Dionne are already crying, “The Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government…  Americans are about to learn… how radical the new conservatives in Washington are, and the extent to which some politicians would transfer even more resources from the have-nots and have-a-littles to the have-a-lots.”  Ezra Klein whines that Ryan’s plan will mean “leaving the old and the poor without health care.”  These are the people who are going to be placated by giving in on minute cuts now into accepting huge cuts several months from now?

Republicans’ negotiation strategy, from Bush I to Bush II to Boehner, has always been: The other side asks for an inch; Republicans give a mile.  Democrats’ strategy is: The other side asks for an inch; Democrats take a mile.  See how fair and evenhanded things are!

To take just one recent example, Congressional Republicans begged Democrats to consider including medical malpractice tort reform, legalizing health insurance sales across state lines, and offering greater tax deductions for health care costs in their ObamaCare bill.  Democrats responded by ignoring all these ideas and muscling through their bill inappropriately using the budget reconciliation procedure after the enraged residents of Massachusetts denied them their 60th Senate vote.

Battling Democrats legislatively is like fighting terrorists militarily—you don’t show them how weak and spineless you are; you show them how ruthless and merciless you can be.  They don’t respond to anything else.

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