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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

February 5: The Eveready GOP Agenda

What with Republicans all suddenly talking about wage stagnation and income inequality, it’s very important that Democrats understand how adept the opposition has become in adapting its eternal agenda to changing circumstances. I discussed this at some length at TPMCafe this week:

This is most obvious with economic and fiscal policy, where the conservative movement and the Republican Party have embraced a largely static agenda of deregulation, top-end personal and business tax cuts and sharp reductions in domestic spending, with periodic attacks on New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs, with “devolution” as an instrument for “reform,” for well over thirty years…..There has been a “minority report” on taxes among conservatives favoring a consumption tax–the “Fair Tax” promoted by Mike Huckabee and many others being the most popular contemporary iteration–but the distributional thrust is the same or even more regressive. And there has also been persistent interest among social conservatives in “family-friendly” tax policies, usually a big boost in the child tax credit. But it’s pretty much a regular menu with the occasional refresh.
What’s fascinating, though, is how these policies are offered again and again as an agenda for all seasons and all circumstances–good times (like the late 1990s), bad times (like the last few years), budget surpluses (in 2001, when George W. Bush marketed his huge package of tax cuts as a “rebate”), budget deficits (the 1980s through the early 1990s, and again since 2009), and just about every climate in between the extremes.
Lately we’re getting a slightly remixed version of the same old, same old as the “answer” to wage stagnation and income equality–essential topics for a number of reasons, notably the growth and unemployment indices making it tougher to attack Obama for a slow or nonexistent recovery from the Great Recession. But if you listen closely, there’s not a whole lot we haven’t heard before, as Bloomberg Politics‘ Ben Brody noted recently:

In July, Representative Paul Ryan’s Budget Committee issued a draft anti-poverty plan lamenting that “far too many people are stuck on the lower rungs” of the economy and recommending a combination of reformed social safety nets, state flexibility in education, and decreased regulations. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, meanwhile, has gone even farther, declaring on his website that “the United States is beset by a crisis in inequality” and that “bigger government is not the solution to unequal opportunity–it’s the cause.”

Uh huh: You got your “entitlement reform,” your devolution, your deregulation, and your smaller government. And even more Republicans are eager to throw some tax preferences at the problem. That’s the standard formula from “Reformicon” intellectuals and the handful of Republican pols (notably Marco Rubio) listening to them . But it mostly revolves around the old social conservative indirect method of addressing economic problems by encouraging marriage and children.

So next time you hear of a Republican leader offering a proposal or batch of proposals to address a new national challenge, be sure to look first to see if the “solution” sounds familiar.

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