06 April 2011

Thoughts on the 2011 Budget Battle

In a nutshell, we're two days away from a deadline by which point the federal government could be shut down if a budget isn't established.  To be fair, this was the responsibility of last year's Congress and they failed to address it.  So far, the national discussion about the budget has gone something like this:
  1. Media frames the debate in terms of political liability to either party.
  2. Bloggers and website commentators chime in thusly:
  • Conservatives - Blame President Obama and the Democrats for stealing money from hard working, decent Americans and giving it willy nilly to lazy, selfish people
  • Liberals - Blame the House Republicans for being lapdogs trying to destroy the social safety nets that have kept the country from absolute ruin for the better part of the last century
At this point, so many people have been out of work for so long that I would have hoped that the myth that only lazy, selfish people are unemployed would be busted.  Sadly, there are still people out there who have mistaken their own good fortune for evidence that they're good people, and that those who have not been as fortunate must be dishonest, lazy, selfish, etc.

Just to clarify this point: no one can even draw unemployment benefits who hasn't held a job and paid into the system.  Unemployment is but a fraction of what one's wages had been.  You took out a home and car loan, with the understanding that your income would cover them.  Guess what?  Now your income may not even cover those.  Savings?  You're not adding to them; you're emptying them.  Unemployment isn't a paid vacation, full of frivolity.

President Ronald Reagan once famously declared,
"Deficits don't matter; people matter."
That is no longer the Republican philosophy.  They're concerned that the Haves aren't getting to keep all of the marbles, and they don't care that the few marbles spread around all the Have Nots is barely enough to keep millions of Americans alive.  I'm not talking about being comfortable, or prosperous.  I'm talking about people whose only means of literal survival have been through government programs.

People have been searching for work for the last decade.  They've been applying for jobs beneath their skill level, only to be denied.  Jobs have been outsourced to more exploitable labor markets.  Jobs have been replaced with automation.  Jobs have been filled by under-the-table illegal immigrant workers.  Jobs have not, however, been created.  People can't create jobs for themselves.  What the hell alternative is there to unemployment, if your labor isn't wanted?

In any event, here's what surprises me about this game of brinkmanship being played out over the federal budget.  We're already six months into the 2011 fiscal year; the money that's already been spent is gone.  This wasn't even supposed to be a budget in the purview of the current Congress.  The Tea Party Republicans were supposed to inherit a budget; that they've been given a chance to craft it in progress should have been considered gravy for them.

The 2012 budget is due to be crafted by the end of September.  The GOP should have considered the ability to impact the 2011 budget a complete bonus and been more than satisfied by the cuts that have been agreed to so far.  The 2012 budget should be their big project, and instead here they are threatening to shut down the federal government because these cuts don't go far enough for their liking.  I would have played hard-to-get now, but considered any cuts a win and then played hardball over the 2012 budget.  Speaker Boehner, though, feels that he should blow his wad now.  There is no escalation from a shut down.  There is no tactic left for the GOP to use over the 2012 budget in a few months.  Why would you let the 2011 budget battle go this far, knowing you're going to have the 2012 budget to craft?

The only precedent for a federal government shutdown in my lifetime occurred in 1995, when the Republican-controlled Congress threw its weight around to undermine President Bill Clinton.  Speaker Newt Gingrich eventually revealed the entire debate to revolve around his pettiness over being seated at the back of Air Force One.  The message is clear: if the Republicans don't control both the Executive and Legislative branches, they will sabotage the entire government however they can.  Speaker Boehner has no intention of cooperating to avoid a shutdown; he welcomes the prospect of the Have Nots being thrown under the bus.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the endgame here is to see how many poor people will literally die without government assistance, and then to do it all over again come September when they will have the opportunity to deny funding and services to the rest of us for an entire year.

Goddamn you, John Boehner.

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