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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The GOP’s Plan-Meets-Need Problem

It’s been clear for a while that Republican congressional candidates this year have basically been divided by those who are screaming for fiscal discipline without being willing to say anything coherent about how to impose it, and those hearty few who are willing to come right out and call for destruction of such highly popular programs as Social Security, Medicare, federal aid to education, and environmental protection.
There’s a fascinating piece in the Washington Independent by Jesse Swick that shines a spotlight on the former group:

Republicans are expected to gain around 50 seats in Congress in next month’s midterm elections, largely running on a platform of deficit reduction. But interviews with a number of Republican candidates who are likely to join the House of Representatives in January reveal that while they have a wealth of creative ideas to cut federal spending, their plans are often lacking in details or far too limited to bring about the level of deficit reduction the candidates are calling for so forcefully on the campaign trail.

I’d say that’s putting it charitably, since “creative” in this context seems to mean “stupid;” “lacking in detail” means “empty;” and “far too limited” means “pretending to slay an elephant with a fly-swatter.”

[S]ome experts say that the areas in which these candidates are advocating cuts — mainly non-defense discretionary spending in the federal agencies — are precisely the places where cuts are the most difficult to find and the least meaningful in terms of deficit reduction.
The problem with the plans that focus on consolidating federal agencies and making them more efficient, said Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, is they distract from real debates about the role of government. “The idea that we can simply rearrange things and reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies is engaging a lot of wasted energy.”
In addition, most candidates advocate taking spending back to 2007-8 levels, which, though politically expedient because it conjures up the pre-Obama era, don’t represent as significant a reduction in the deficit as candidates are claiming. “They’re trying to say, ‘Let’s go back to pre-stimulus levels,'” said DeHaven. “Unfortunately, that’s going back to the decade when Congress shot spending though the roof. And they’re only talking about non-defense discretionary spending, which is a very small portion of federal spending.”

But while Republican candidates are vague or just nonsensical on the spending side of the budget, they are very specific about demands to blow up deficits via tax cuts:

For all their worries about spending and deficits, GOP candidates argue for the extension of the Bush tax cuts, even though Congressional Budget Office estimates predict that a permanent tax extension will force the nation to borrow an additional $3.9 trillion over the next decade. The candidates argue that an extension would stimulate the economy, and that higher incomes would help offset the lost government revenues.
“The problem isn’t that we’re under-taxed,” said [Ohio Republican Steve] Chabot. “The problem is that we overspend. When you reduce taxes, most of that revenue will come back through the resulting growth in the economy. It happened under a Democrat, John F. Kennedy, and a Republican, Ronald Reagan.”

When math fails you, it seems, it’s always time to go back to the old supply-side delusion, which no amount of experience seems able to kill.
In college debate, we called a fundamental mismatch between the affirmative team’s indictment of the status quo and its specific plan for doing something about it a “plan-meets-need” problem. That could very well be America’s problem after this election.

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