Friday, April 12, 2013

No, Republicans Are Not Going To Offer Brooks

David Brooks suggested an offer for Republicans to make as an alternative grand bargain: basically, leave taxes out, run higher short-term deficits than Republicans say they want, cut Social Security and Medicare spending now, but accept the discretionary spending that Democrats want. Matt Yglesias says that it would be a hard offer for Democrats to deal with.

I suspect that what Yglesias is concerned about is (from his perspective) the oddity of Democratic insistence on raising taxes, rather than on protecting programs they care about, as their bottom line in budget negotiations.

But there's nothing here for Democrats to worry about, because there's no chance of GOP buy-in to this sort of offer. It's an offer that does a great deal for David Brooks, but not for the actual Republican Party.

The thing is: I'm pretty sure that Brooks really does care about long-term budget deficits. His plan, which entails meaningful spending cuts on Medicare, would help with that. But I don't think war-on-budget Republicans care at all about actual budget deficits; what they want to do is to cut spending on programs they don't like, and preferably eliminate those programs completely. By that standard, the Brooks program is at best beside the point, and more likely a disaster for them.

And that's the generous reading! The other way to think about today's GOP is that it really doesn't care about policy outcomes very much at all; it just cares about opposing the Democratic president. If that's the case, then any "grand bargain" that Obama is willing to do will be automatically ruled out by definition, with only RINOs willing to do them.

This isn't a criticism of Brooks: the GOP needs more real proposals, and his is (at least within the limits of an op-ed) a real proposal. But I will say one thing about the "post-policy" GOP. One of the ideas Brooks would like to see funded in his entitlements-for-discretionary swap would be a "national service program." But that's nothing more than a great example of what I'm talking about. If I recall correctly, the idea of a national service program was floated by conservatives in the 1980s, adopted and implemented by Bill Clinton and the Democrats in the 1990s -- after which it was full-out opposed by conservatives for the remainder of Clinton's terms. And then, once Clinton was gone, it returned as something (some) conservatives sort of liked the idea of, but no one in Congress, as far as I know, has actually tried to do anything about it.

At any rate: no, I don't think that Democrats need to worry that Republicans will make an offer anything like this one.


  1. Brooks is simply not a small government conservative at all. Republicans should oppose Brooks' proposed deal because it is pure redistribution, and the heart of domestic conservatism is opposition to redistribution. Since when is attacking inequality a Republican idea? The Republican concept of good public policy is that inequality represents fairness, that it is just that the most talented and hardworking Americans have much higher standards of living than average Americans, and that government should leave the market distribution of income as it is, except for a little redistribution to the poorest to prevent immiseration.

    1. Or, alternatively, those with higher standards of living have found it easy to convince themselves that they must surely be the most talented and hardworking.

    2. This little discussion is such a great example of why these issues are so difficult in 21st century America.

      Quite simply:

      Sergei Brin/Larry Page and those like them - I'm with Anonymous.

      Mitt Romney and those like him - I'm with Scott Monje.

      I have absolutely, positively, nothing further that is remotely helpful to add to this discussion.

    3. Broadly speaking:

      It used to be that Democrats and Republicans agreed on the problems, but disagreed on the solutions.

      Now they don't even agree on the problems.

    4. Very good points, both.

    5. "Government should leave the market distribution of income as it is, except for a little redistribution to the poorest to prevent immiseration" = how to lose all the elections.

  2. Right now, America faces two giant problems: social unraveling today and cataclysmic debt tomorrow.

    The banking sector is less stable and more political than before the crash. TBTF is much worse than before, making this the biggest problem today. Leftists are always looking to the next big government conquest and have completely forgotten their OWS fixations.

    When the next crash hits (something that Obama seems set on causing) all of this "grand bargain" fantasizing will go out the window.

  3. JB wrote: "Republicans [don't] care at all about actual budget deficits; what they want to do is to cut spending on programs they don't like, and preferably eliminate those programs completely.

    I understand that the GOP wants what it wants, but I don't understand why it isn't tempering those goals in the face of reality. Their stance seems so illogical to me. They just lost big in the last election, but they're not adjusting their positions. Isn't that a prescription for more electoral defeat?

    The only explanation that makes sense to me is that the GOP is doubling down and just hoping to somehow hit the lottery, or the electoral equivalent. That is, they're hoping for a big win, not based on the soundness or popularity of their ideas, but just by luck or a confluence of odd factors.

  4. MP,

    I suspect the poli sci answer to that would be that the GOP is correct that its policy preferences and ideology matter little for elections, and that they can easily win without changing anything. JB, at least, would say governing is another story, but the GOP does not seem to care about that. But if they want to cripple certain programs, public response be damned, sure they could win an election on fundamentals and do that.

  5. What I wonder, after reading Plain Blog and other political science and policy-interested blogs for years, is whether there is a way to think about what happened to the Republican Party in a more general sense. It's been shown that taking into account fundamentals (economic data over a certain period of time, approval ratings, etc) can reliably predict outcomes of Presidential elections within a few percentage points. So that says to me that behavior in democracies is somewhat predictable and measurable. Can it be determined under which conditions a political party begins to behave as the current GOP is behaving? What factors converge to change constituencies such those that make up the GOP's base into groups that reward obstruction of "enemy" political parties above achievement of policy goals, and adherence to talking points over favored policies? Maybe all "base" voters behave that way, and the greater access to information/misinformation provided by the Internet means that both parties are inevitably going to have a harder time selling compromise and policy realities? Maybe what the GOP is going through is simply part of a process that political parties go through normally, and either continued electoral defeats or another disastrous governing failure such as W. Bush will be the catalyst towards real reform?

    1. Regards to information/misinformation being available over the Internet: I'm fairly progressive and most of my friends are as well. My facebook feed is clear evidence to me that the phenomenon of misinformation going viral is not something limited to conservatives. Certainly the conservative movement has evolved a pretty strong resistance to the correction of misinformation... but I see a lot of nonsense disseminating among Lefties as well.


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