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Kind of Misleading Video About Quantitative Easing That Everyone's Linking | Main | Awww: Westboro Church Van Has Tires Slashed
November 15, 2010

Power of the People: McConnell Buckles, Will Support Earmark Ban

At Hot Air, who links Phillip Klein's piece suggesting that focusing on earmarks is a way of diverting attention away from the real tough choices, about defense and entitlements.

His suggestion is that this lessens the chances that serious cutting will be done to anything, because the forces of fiscal discipline might be appeased by a largely symbolic ban.

Not so fast on that, I think. Consider: It is natural that before we get to the tough stuff (and after that-- the really tough stuff) we have to get to the easy stuff, right? Thus, the easy stuff does not fix all of our problems -- not even close -- but it is nevertheless a necessary first step before the also-necessary second and third steps may be had.

Consider, second: Many people persist under the wrongheaded belief that the budget may be cut by trimming only the easy stuff -- foreign aid, stuff like that. Cutting that sort of stuff is necessary, too -- and partly just to focus the mind of the folks who don't understand the depths of the hole we're in on just how deep we're down. That is to say, we have to cut this sort of stuff first, so we can then turn to such people and say, "Look, we've cut the easy stuff; we're still in a big hole. Can you now focus on the more difficult cuts?"

Chances are most will be on board... but only once we've demonstrated the useful, but quite limited and insufficient, nature of these first tentative steps.

Consider, third, and this is most important: Seniors and near-seniors are loathe to give up a dime (check out any thread on entitlement reform). While they often seem to be absolutist, sometimes there is a hint of potential compromise expressed, obliquely.

Statements are made along the lines of "Why should I agree to give up a dime while there is all this waste in other areas of the system? I paid into this; I am more deserving of this than someone who paid in nothing to get their government subsidy."

And indeed they are. Which means that if there is going to be any sort of entitlement reform at all that touches either seniors or near-seniors, it must first be demonstrated to them that all waste and unnecessary spending has been eliminated from the system, to suggest to them that:

1) Others have made to give up first, before they are asked to give up anything;


2) That they will be asked to give up the least amount possible.

That is, they want savings to come first and most from other sectors of government spending. Which is reasonable.

Now, if we demonstrate that to them -- that we have cut and cut vigorously from all other areas first -- they may agree to necessary reforms to Medicaid and Social Security.

Then again, they might not, but I do know that any sort of plan for budgetary solvency that seniors will buy into may not come out of their hides as a manner of first resort. They definitely will not accept that, and I don't blame them.

As far as entitlement reform, then, slashing other areas of wasteful spending is a necessary but not sufficient step towards convincing seniors of the need and fairness of some sorts of reform to the two biggest areas of federal spending. They may still not agree after we've cut in all other areas of government, but I know for damnsure they will never agree before we've made such cuts.

This is progress. One step, then another, then another, then another.

We are still imposingly far from our destination. But such is the case for all long, hard slogs.

But standing in place will never get us there. One step seems to get us no closer, but in fact it does get us slightly closer, which encourages the next step, which encourages the third.

The alternative is just to throw our hands up and say "It's too long a trek" and just accept that we're going into some kind of chaotic default/bankruptcy/civil war in fifteen years and so we might as well agree to Obama's further second and third stimuli because, hey, we ain't gonna pay any of this back anyhow! Might as well have as big a party as we can for five years, before the bills start coming due.

This is the natural way to attack a big problem: Easiest stuff first, somewhat harder stuff next, hard stuff next, forbiddingly hard stuff last. There is nothing strange or duty-evading about this sequence. People ought to be cautious about always warning about the direly-difficult stuff on the horizon coming next, as that just makes people reluctant to do what's currently on the agenda, figuring, "Hell, we'll never do any of that anyway; let's all give up."

Yes, the tough stuff will have to be gotten to. After the easier stuff. Let's take care of all the easier stuff first before worrying so much about the tough stuff we give up completely.

In another thread, Balrog of Morgorth said he thought it was impossible that we'd ever cut 5% of fed workers' salaries and fire/attrit 10% of them.

Here's why it's quite possible: Seniors. At some point it's going to start coming down to hundreds of thousands of federal workers versus millions and millions of seniors having to give something up. Now, put like that: Who wins? Who's got more political juice and who's got less?

Not to be a dick about this, but seniors are going to be our greatest allies for cutting everything else, all the stuff that must be cut anyway, which they're going to insist be cut first, leaving them for last (and leaving them with as little pain as possible). When we've taken care of all of that we can then talk to seniors, too.

But we've got to get all this other stuff done first, anyway, so let's just start doing it.

Earmarks Are A Lot More Costly Than Their Stated Cost: AmishDude notes, for like the third time in the comments (and each time I wanted to put it in a main post), what might be called the Broken Windows Theory of Budget Criminality.

The problem with earmarks is not that they cost too much in and of themselves, but they are used as bribes for Congressmen to sign on to much bigger projects.

Without the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase, Obamacare would never have happened. Multiply that by 100 for all the wretched spending bills that get through Congress.

As far as the symbolic stuff -- Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts -- cut that too. Just because it's pennies doesn't mean it shouldn't be cut. In fact, if the best argument is that it's too miniscule, then it shouldn't have been in the budget in the first place. Moreover, lots of stuff is justified by comparison. "We have X, why not Y?" Cut it all.

As with real street-crime, a permissive attitude about small-bore crimes encourage major heists; fix the windows, make the neighborhood look more respectable, and arrest the turnstile-jumpers and three-card-monty scammers, and serious crime drops.

Similarly-- stop the small-beans budgetary crime and you'll have less highway robbery, too.

That's all true -- but it should also be noted they do have a real cost, too, in the billions, and we should never get to the point where we just blow off a "billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we're talking real money."

Amish is right, but even if he weren't -- billions and billions are real money.

digg this
posted by Ace at 04:56 PM

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