Sunday, July 10, 2011

You Keep Using That Word...

Via Jonathan Cohn, who has an excellent post on GOP budget priorities, WaPo's Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane say (emphasis added):
Democrats were demanding more than $800 billion in new tax revenue, causing heartburn among the hard-line fiscal conservatives who dominate the House Republican caucus.
Wrong. Fiscal conservatives are deficit hawks. They don't want the federal budget to run a deficit. That's what fiscal conservative has pretty much always meant.

Fiscal conservatives do not dominate the House Republican caucus. Fiscal conservatives appear to have virtually no influence with House Republicans.

To the contrary: as far as I can tell from their actions, mainstream conservatives just don't believe in the concept of budgets at all these days. If you don't believe in budgets, then you really can't (effectively) care about deficits, no matter how much lip service you give to it. All of which is well within their rights (although at least a bit goofy, given both their anti-deficit rhetoric and the mathematical facts of individual spending and tax decisions).

But it's wrong for objective observers to describe Republicans as fiscal conservatives, when in fact it's Democrats, for better or worse, who appear through their actions to actually care about reducing budget deficits. It's bad reporting by Montgomery and Kane.


  1. I think we need to develop a new terminology, since deficits clearly are not important in politics.

    Fiscally conscious: People who are aware of how much the government is spending and taxing, but want to evaluate the marginal costs/benefits of their budget decisions. They will be happy to run deficits if the marginal cost of cutting spending outweighs the savings (or if the marginal cost of raising taxes outweighs the savings). I'd put some Dems in this category.

    Fiscally illiterate: People who think deficits are more important than they really are, so they pursue balanced budget goals without really considering the consequences or impact of their decisions. Obama, and maybe Boehner, go here.

    Fiscally unprincipled: People who will change their views on the deficit, depending on which position best supports their ideological beliefs. These people may believe in growing deficits to help push forward one belief (cutting taxes), but then recommend reducing the deficit to push forward a second belief (cutting spending). Most Republicans.

  2. >Fiscal conservatives are deficit hawks. They don't want the federal budget to run a deficit. That's what fiscal conservative has pretty much always meant.

    I disagree. The term "fiscal conservative" has come to mean "one who supports the economic policies of the GOP" (which are often used to contrast with its social policies). Those policies masquerade as budget hawkery but are anything but. Yet because the GOP has been successful in framing the divide in this way, and because there's a conventional assumption that anything with the word "conservative" in it must fit the Republicans more than the Democrats, the media has eaten it up.

    I avoid using the term "fiscal conservative," because just uttering the phrase is tantamount to accepting the idea that to be conservative is to care about budgets, to be liberal is not to. That idea hasn't been relevant to US politics in over thirty years, yet the myth that it has still lingers. The true fiscal conservatives are, in reality, liberals, but the term "fiscal conservative" is now nothing more than code for people out to protect and promote the interests of the rich.

  3. I interpret "fiscal conservative" to simply mean a person who favors tax and spending cuts.
    While a lot of the people who fit that description give A LOT of lip service to deficits, I interpet that to be some combination of posturing and trying to use deficits as a boogeyman to get more spending cuts.
    I read that sentence to mean "Dems wanted tax increases, which people who hate taxes didn't like."


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