More and more figures on the right — especially some darlings of the all‐important tea party movement — are coming forward to utter a conservative heresy: that the Pentagon budget cow perhaps should not be so sacred after all.
Senator‐elect Rand Paul of Kentucky was the latest, declaring on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that military spending should not be exempt from the electorate’s clear
desire to reduce the massive federal deficit.
His comments follow similar musings by leading fiscal hawks Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, a presumptive contender for the GOP nomination in 2012. Others who agree that military spending shouldn’t get a free pass as we search for savings include Sen. Johnny Isakson, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey—the list goes on.
Will tea partiers extend their limited government principles to foreign policy? I certainly hope so, although I caution that any move to bring down Pentagon spending must include a change in our foreign policy that currently commits our military to far too many missions abroad. To cut spending without reducing overseas commitments merely places additional strains on the men and women serving in our military, which is no one’s desired outcome.
If tea partiers need the specifics they have been criticized for lacking in their drive for fiscal discipline, they need look no further than the Cato Institute’s DownSizingGovernment.org project. As of today, that web site includes recommendations for over a trillion dollars in targeted cuts to the Pentagon budget over ten years.
Meanwhile, the hawkish elements of the right have been at pains to declare military spending off‐limits in any moves toward fiscal austerity. That perspective is best epitomized in a Wall Street Journal op‐ed by Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Brooks of AEI and Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard published on Oct. 4 — a month before the tea party fueled a GOP landslide. (Ed Crane and I penned a letter responding to that piece.) Thankfully, it looks like neoconservative attempts to forestall a debate over military spending have failed. That debate is already well along.
Immigrants are a voting block worth courting, but it seems both Democrats and Republicans aren’t terribly concerned about earning immigrants’ allegiance. The sometimes‐dehumanizing rhetoric hurled at immigrants by a small, vocal minority of Republicans would seem to push immigrant voters into the loving arms of Democrats. But Democrats have been in charge of two branches of the federal government for two years and have done nothing to reform our immigration system. For his part, President Obama pledged that 2009 would bear witness to comprehensive immigration reform.
Dan Griswold discusses the rhetoric surrounding immigration in light of today’s election for today’s Cato Daily Podcast (subscribe, already!):
With Tuesday’s election widely predicted to bring a near‐historic shake‐up of the political establishment, here are some things we can say for certain even before the first results are tallied:
- This election will be a win for economic conservatives, not social conservatives. Not surprisingly given the economic climate, economic issues dominated the campaign, with social issues barely registering. This was particularly helpful for Republicans, since economically conservative, socially moderate suburban voters, who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008, switched to Republicans this year. There is a lesson here for Republicans in the future.
- In the months leading up to the election, we have heard a great deal about the so‐called “civil war” in the Republican Party. As it turns out, there wasn’t one. Despite some spirited, even bitter, primary fights, Republicans of all stripes were able to unify around a common opposition to the Obama agenda. But having achieved electoral success, Republicans will now be forced to confront the serious divisions in their party: tea partiers vs. the GOP establishment; economic conservatives vs. social conservatives; budget hawks vs. neoconservatives. The “civil war” will be back with a vengeance.
- Voters will choose Republicans in this election because they aren’t Democrats. It doesn’t mean that voters have fallen in love with the Republican party. In fact, polls show that Republicans remain only slightly more popular than used car salesmen — or Democrats. At best, voters are willing to give Republicans one last chance. If they don’t deliver, it will be a long, long time before they get another one.
- No issue hurt Democrats as much as the health care bill. It wasn’t just that voters hate the bill — they do — but that it crystallized the average American’s antipathy to a government that was too big, too costly and too out of touch. Voters will declare that they don’t want government running health care…and come to think of it, they don’t want government running much else either.
While flipping through the radio on my way to pick my son up from school yesterday afternoon, I was dumbfounded to hear Congressman John Boehner talk about repealing Obama’s Medicare cuts on Sean Hannity’s show.
I wasn’t shocked that Boehner was referring to non‐existent cuts (Medicare spending is projected to jump from $519 billion in 2010 to $677 billion in 2015 according to the Congressional Budget Office). I’ve been dealing with Washington’s dishonest definition of “spending cuts” for decades, so I’m hardly fazed by that type of routine inaccuracy.
But I was amazed that the presumptive future Speaker of the House went on a supposedly conservative talk radio show and said that increasing Medicare spending would be on the agenda of a GOP‐controlled Congress. (I wondered if I somehow misinterpreted what was being said, but David Frum heard the same thing)
To be fair, Boehner also said that he wanted to repeal ObamaCare, so it would be unfair to claim that the interview was all Bush‐style, big‐government conservatism. But it is not a positive sign that Boehner is talking about more spending before he’s even had a chance to pick out the drapes for his new office.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor’s “YouCut” project has released a new video that attempts to visually underscore the impropriety of sticking future taxpayers with a mountain of federal debt.
The video begins with a voice saying “You wouldn’t do this to your child’s piggy bank” followed by visuals of a child’s piggy bank being smashed with a hammer. The voice then says:
But Democrat controlled Washington is leaving a $13 trillion debt for your children and future generations. It’s time Washington got its fiscal house in order. Start changing the culture of spending in Washington by voting on YouCut today.
That’s a wee bit disingenuous considering that Republicans and Democrats alike are responsible for the massive federal debt.
More frustrating is the fact that the GOP leadership rhetoric of grave concern is completely at odds with the party’s tiny proposed reforms. In Cantor’s YouCut commentary he says “America is at a critical crossroads, and the choices we make today will determine the kind of country we leave to our children and grandchildren.”
Now let’s look at this week’s proposed GOP spending cuts. A website banner says “CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THIS WEEK’S FIVE CUTS,” but takes the viewer to the YouCut page where they’re offered three spending cut options:
1. Terminate Taxpayer Funding of National Public Radio. The site says this would achieve “Savings of Tens of Millions of Dollars (potentially in excess of a hundred million dollars).” NPR shouldn’t receive taxpayer funding – and not just because it canned Juan Williams. But couldn’t the House GOP leadership have at least offered up the $500 million Corporation for Public Broadcasting that subsidizes NPR for cutting?
2. Terminate Exchanges with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program. The site says this would save $87.5 million over ten years.
3. Terminate the Presidential Election Fund. This would achieve a whopping projected savings of $520 million over ten years.
America is at a “critical crossroads” and the GOP leadership is offering to cut whaling history subsidies? Congress is bankrupting the nation and the possible next Speaker of the House – “never a details man” – can’t even specify what he would cut in the budget.
“Three top Republican House members have written a book that repeatedly criticizes former GOP leaders as well as President Obama,” reports the Washington Post. “In ‘Young Guns,’ scheduled for release Sept. 14, Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) cast the Republican congressional leaders who preceded them as a group that “betrayed its principles” and was plagued by ‘failures from high‐profile ethics lapses to the inability to rein in spending or even slow the growth of government.’ ”
Good point! And one we’ve made several times at Cato.
But how credible are the messengers? Once you ruin a brand, it can take a long time to restore it. And part of the solution is owning up to your own errors, not just pointing the fingers.
In this case, I’m sorry to discover that Reps. Cantor and Ryan both voted for the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, expanding federal control over education. They both voted for the costly Iraq war in 2002. They both voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which was projected to add more than $700 billion to Medicare costs over the following decade. They both voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which included the $700 billion TARP bailout. (Rep. McCarthy, who joined the House in 2007, voted against TARP.)
To be fair, all three of the authors get A’s and B’s in the annual ratings of Congress by the National Taxpayers Union, which means they have better records on spending than most of their colleagues. But I’ll be curious to see if the book admits that any of the near‐trillion‐dollar votes discussed above were mistakes — not just by the departed Bush, Hastert, and DeLay but by many Republican members of Congress.
Some leaders within the Republican Party seem to have fixed on a useful club with which to bludgeon the president and his fellow Democrats -- Cordoba House, aka the "Ground Zero" Mosque. Over the weekend, Republican strategist Ed Rollins explained how the party would use the issue in the coming months:
ROLLINS: Intellectually, the president may be right, but this is an emotional issue, and people who lost kids, brothers, sisters, fathers, what have you, do not want that mosque in New York, and it's going to be a big, big issue for Democrats across this country.
"Face the Nation" Host Bob SCHIEFFER: So you see it as an issue that's going to continue?
ROLLINS: Absolutely. No question about it. Every candidate -- every candidate who's in the challenge districts are going to be asked, how do you feel about building the mosque on the Ground Zero sites?
This strategy, exploiting still-raw emotion and implicitly demonizing Muslims, threatens to trade short-term political gain for medium-term political harm to the party. And it most certainly will translate into long-term harm for the country at large.
Opposing the construction of a mosque near the Ground Zero site plays into al Qaeda's narrative that the United States is engaged in a war with Islam, that bin Laden and his tiny band of followers represent something more than a pitiful group of murderers and thugs, and that all American Muslims are an incipient Fifth Column that must be either converted to Christianity or driven out of the country, else they will undermine American society from within.
It isn't a political slam-dunk, either. Though 64 percent of Americans think a mosque near Ground Zero is "inappropriate", 60 percent of all respondents in the same survey, including 57 percent of Republicans, believe that the organizers have a right to build in that location, and presumably would not favor a government prohibition on this activity. (h/t Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight) If anyone were to show evidence that the parties building the center were in any way linked to the 9/11 terrorists, or funded by or funding these same terrorists, then the issues at stake would change. But they haven’t done so, and are unlikely to do so. In the meantime, those GOP leaders who oppose the mosque betray a basic inability to discern public attitudes, even as they propel this country on a ruinous course, headlong into a civilizational war which pits all Americans against all Muslims.