The reader should be assured that there is nothing in the following text that should be interpreted as a statement of support for the Republican National Committee or its mass media organs. This text merely states that congressional Republicans who have opposed budget hikes and Obamacare have acted decently but are unlikely to be rewarded with public approval. I have no doubt that if we were dealing with a Romney or Christie administration, many of those who now oppose federal spending would be less vocal about government extravagance. The same would be true if the budget proposed additional spending on the military.
Objections can certainly be raised against the congressional budget constructed by two Wisconsiners Paul Ryan and Patty Murray. Tea Party activists lost no time lacing into this plan that Congress passed by large margins. The new budget does nothing to reduce the national debt and provides for continued tax increases over the next ten years, totaling $1 trillion. Ryan and Murray, according to their critics, seem oblivious to the fact that tax intake has risen by $188 billion in the last year, while federal spending cuts in the same period total a mere $85 billion. Finally the reduced amounts being allotted to Medicare, partly as the result of Obamacare, will require lowered payments to doctors and hospitals. Substantial cuts will also come out of the support for veteran pensions and the care of wounded soldiers. Moreover, the tax hike for Obamacare will likely be in the range of $3 trillion, a cost that taxpayers will be asked to defray. The new budget assumes that Obamacare will go forward, despite its manifest defects and disastrous rollout.
The GOP should be delighted with this budget, in view of the poor hand that voters have dealt it and the hostility registered for its congressional representatives in national polls. On the plus side, the budget compels federal workers to pay for more of their pension plans; and this may be a modest victory for budget-trimmers. Most voters don’t care a fig about the costs of social programs, which they imagine will be paid out of someone else’s pocket. They want goodies and lots of them, especially for the “disadvantaged,” which, in their minds, include most of them. Needless to say, these voters loathe congressional penny-pinchers who express second thoughts about government benevolence.
The electorate does not dislike Obama the way they do the House Republicans, who enjoy just above a 20% approval rating. It’s not that House Republicans really want to dismantle the federal welfare state, contrary to what Democratic columnists suggest. They just talk about shrinking the debt (which the vast majority of Americans claim to be in favor of) by shrinking some social programs. In late September Republican congressmen managed to curtail a few federal operations for a few weeks while trying to keep back Obamacare from going into effect. Although the rollout has been a disaster, the majority of voters still haven’t forgiven House Republicans for having counterfactually “closed down government.” A gesture with mere symbolic significance, it apparently scared lots of Americans, who feared their favorite government programs were under attack.
Obama, by contrast, still enjoys the trust of 45% of Americans polled. Although his presidency has witnessed one screw-up after another, the miscalculations of Obamace being only the most recent, he’s still liked if no longer respected by most Americans. That’s because this fellow is seen as nice, that is, someone who promises more and more goodies that someone else is supposed to pay for. The “people” showed their love for this bumbling leader by electing and reelecting him to the presidency. This is different from how the real majority regard Tea Party favorites Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. Most of those polled consider these opponents of deficit spending and a higher debt ceiling to be beneath contempt.
Given their weak electoral strength and the popular appetite for an all-embracing Nanny State, Republicans in Congress had no practical choice but to take the proposed budget. But the Republican establishment and its stable of columnists should not have praised this deal. Rather they should have stressed their inability to do any better, given where most likely voters stand on government spending. There is no need for empty bipartisan gestures. The GOP should make clear that the other side is in the driver’s seat because that is where the electorate wants them. What is more, the opposition will not able to turn anything around, until the balance of power changes. That is the way a parliamentary system works, in which one party or coalition takes over and runs affairs until it is voted out.
It is foolish for an outnumbered party whose congressional representatives seem widely hated to claim they’re speaking for the “people.” Those who make this claim are deluding themselves badly. Tea Party congressmen should recognize their circumstances and let the other side give the “people” exactly what they voted for. Of course there is no guarantee that allowing this to happen will change majority opinion. Perhaps the voters will become so addicted to government programs that the feds will have to borrow truckloads of money from China in order to pay for expanding popular appetites. This may the direction in which most Western democracies are headed, toward crises produced by wild government spending. But there is no advantage for those whom the public scorns to pretend they’re doing the will of the “people.” Unfortunately, they’re not.