Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GOP Strategy on Fiscal Discipline?

Getting rid of a $1.3 trillion dollar deficit---to say nothing of the $14 trillion national debt---is going to take some *serious* reductions in spending on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and defense.  Cutting nondefense discretionary spending just isn't going to solve the fiscal problems---eliminating all federal spending except for the four horsemen mentioned above and interest on the debt would only reduce the deficit by half.  That's just the way it is.

So, my question is, what's the GOP House Leadership's political calculation about picking a fight over $100 billion in nondefense discretionary spending in the continuing resolution?

A hundred billion dollars isn't nothing, but it's less than 10% of the deficit.  Granted, proposing the cuts was a campaign promise, and it is a signal about being serious about bringing overall spending down.  That said, these cuts are taking a lot of political capital to push through, even on a short-term basis, and they open up the party to all kinds of attacks about lost support for all kinds of popular and relatively inexpensive budget items, like medical research.  That seems like a high price to pay for just the opening act to, I presume, *big* fights about changing the retirement age, means testing, reimbursement rates, copays, and rationing that will inevitably be part of the debate over reducing entitlement spending over the long run.

Does the leadership expect that the discretionary cuts will make passing the entitlement cuts easier somehow?   Are they trying to take these cuts while they can because the fear the entitlement reforms will fail?  Do they value the short-run payoff of "winning" the continuing resolution over the long-run payoff of actually balancing the budget?  Are they just position-taking to force the President to augment his record of fiscal irresponsibility?  Something else?

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