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Independence on the Cheap

E.J. Dionne today takes up some of the issues that I've been writing about here, particularly the Republican effort to completely divorce tax cuts from their consequences in deficits, spending cuts, and future tax increases. He adds some information I wasn't aware of, about the different dates when the budget resolution calls for the tax cuts and spending cuts to come forward, so that by the time the spending cuts are considered in the House, the tax cuts will be a done deal. It's a typically great column, but I have one small quibble:

Dionne writes,

Quietly, sober Republicans are challenging these budgets in bits and pieces. Smith's Medicaid proposal is one sign. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota has taken on the president's cuts in the Community Development Block Grant program. Five brave Senate Republicans -- George Voinovich, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee -- bucked their party on Wednesday to vote for budget rules that would have required any new tax cuts to be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget. The measure fell just one vote short.

I think he's giving Coleman and Smith credit they absolutely don't deserve here. Yes, they voted against Medicaid cuts, but they also -- along with Specter and DeWine -- voted to continue the practice of passing tax cuts without offsetting spending cuts. These tax cuts will result in spending cuts some day, and the cuts will be massive. A vote for tax cuts is a vote for Medicaid cuts, and Medicare cuts, and education cuts, and environment cuts. No politician should be allowed to pretend otherwise.

You can't give credit for "sobriety" in "bits and pieces." Here are the four combination of votes that were possible on the two amendments, Feingold-Chafee on PAYGO and Smith's to reverse the Medicaid cuts:

1. For PAYGO, and against Medicaid cuts. The position of all the Democrats, as well as the three New England Republicans. (Snowe, Collins, Chafee.) That's a vote in favor of no more tax cuts, and for a government that continues to provide a basic safety net. It's obviously not a rollback of past cuts, but it's something.

2. For PAYGO, and for Medicaid cuts. An honest smaller-government conservative position. A Senator who casts this pair of votes may be for tax cuts or not, but at least acknowledges that tax cuts require spending cuts. Number of "honest smaller-government conservatives": Two. McCain and Voinovich.

3. Against PAYGO, and for Medicaid cuts. The position of most Republicans. Sort of half-dishonest; a vote for future tax cuts divorced from their consequences, but at least an acknowledgement that the current path is unsustainable without spending cuts. (Or tax increases. Or both.)

4. Against PAYGO, and against Medicaid cuts. A cheap, untenable, dishonest and disgraceful position. It's a position in favor of further tax cuts divorced from their consequences, and a pretense that one can continue to cut taxes and still get credit for being against Medicaid cuts or CDBG cuts. This is the position of Coleman, Smith, Specter, and DeWine. It's the very opposite of "sober."

I heard Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute a few months ago describe the Republican policy of tax cuts without immediate spending cuts, and in some cases increases, as "double Santa Claus." The position of Coleman, Smith, Specter and DeWine could be described as "triple Santa Claus." Once again, Senators: Tax Cuts are Medicaid cuts. There's no way around that.

As the Bush-DeLay scam begins to break down, there will be a lot of Republicans from blue or purple states like these four who will be looking to get credit for "independence." It is very important that they not get that credit as cheaply as these four.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 18, 2005 | Permalink


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Finally found someone talking about this! Well the Senate Passes Budget With Medicaid Intact!

Before its 51-49 approval of the budget, the Senate, in a surprise, voted to practically double the budget's tax cuts to $134 billion over the next five years. That is even more than Bush and the more conservative House have sought.

these tax cuts, it seems, is compassionate to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg. but for those who led the fight against the Medicaid cuts...their heartless...

The courage simply isn't here," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who said benefit savings were needed to avoid passing unbearably high debts to younger generations.

I think Chairman "Judd" thinks we're stupid!

Posted by: elmo | Mar 18, 2005 12:03:36 PM

I strongly suspect that the explanation for Coleman's votes on the block grants and on Medicaid is that he's doing a favor for Tim Pawlenty, who is up for re-election in 2006 and who seems to be gunning for the presidential or vice presidential nomination in 2008 (and perhaps VP sooner, who knows?). Yglesias notes today that Medicaid cuts pass the buck to governors, leaving Congressional Republicans unblamed. But Pawlenty is one of those governors, and he is absolutely dead set against any tax increases (for reasons of ideology and the already mentioned ambition), and he doesn't want to burnish his image as a mean-spirited guy, which he is, and he's got enough budget difficulties as it is. (His "solution," as best as I can tell, is to extract revenue from some Native American tribes' new casinos.) Coleman's votes make things easier on Pawlenty. How's that for extra dishonesty and disgrace?

Posted by: Jeff | Mar 18, 2005 12:14:24 PM

The connecting idea that will work, I think, is
is that any tax cuts that don't include an explicit matching spending cut is stealing money from the Social Security trust fund.

Posted by: ChasHeath | Mar 18, 2005 12:14:44 PM

"stealing money from the Social Security trust fund"

If you believe we have a responsibility to society the above quote is true. Obviously the current administration has no responsibility to society since they see all social programs as "stealing" from their poor bleeding wallets!

Posted by: elmo | Mar 18, 2005 12:37:38 PM

Any idea on when China will stop buying our dept, sending interest rates through the roof? I bet Clinton gets blamed for it.

Posted by: elmo | Mar 18, 2005 1:30:15 PM

In the WaPo story it says that the additional tax cuts that Bunning added were to "repeal 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits claimed by relatively wealthy seniors." I assume that is the 85% that is taxable if your income is over a very complicated formula, but actually not that high. The article also said that the tax cut authority "could be used for other purposes."

The Dems should highlight this, since any tax cuts are going to be either extensions of the Bush tax cuts, AMT reform or now tax cuts.

I suspect this is for AMT but you never know.

Posted by: Mimikatz | Mar 18, 2005 1:38:39 PM

Glad you posted this.

I mentioned your effort over at Angry Bear.

We're in real trouble and someone needs to mount a full disclosure campaign to address all elements of our fiscal mess.

We know that this won't work, but we're still headed into the iceberg field at full speed.

Only a group of idiots would do that.

We are so screwed.

Posted by: Movie Guy | Mar 18, 2005 8:09:35 PM

Was I the only one who initially read CDBG (community development block grants, I'm guessing) as CBGB?

Posted by: The42ndGuy | Mar 19, 2005 11:36:55 AM

This is so important but gets no attention as the powers that be in the media see a discussion of PAYGO as MEGO! So the country goes down the drain but we will all feel good dumping on Scott Peterson and those nasty Steroid taking ballplayers while spending time at the Neverlan Ranch with Jacko!

Posted by: richard lo cicero | Mar 19, 2005 4:07:52 PM

Great job but I can't view the votes against PAYGO and for Medicaid cuts as anything but fully dishonest since they were more of a pro-tax cut/anti-poor people vote combination than anything having to do with fiscal disipline. Senator Kyl, in opposing the PAYGO rule, was quite explicit that continued tax cuts help the economy while spending hurts it. This isn't half honest, it's fully nuts. According to really scary testimony last week by Comptroller-General David Walker, continuation of all the current tax cuts bleeds revenues dry and eventually crowds out all nonentitlement spending by around 2040. This equation has 2 sides.

Posted by: Ruth Fleischer | Mar 19, 2005 5:25:10 PM

What everyone else said. My thanks, too, for how much I get from this site, Mark.

What is it about the E.J. Dionne's of the media world that their praise gland is stimulated by the tiniest gestures toward semi-decency on the part of the current Republican majority. Meanwhile, even E.J. never hesitates to air dissatisfaction with Democrats in terms that may not be as stupid and demeaning as those of Nick Kristoff, perhaps, but are surely based on expectations of Democrats that are miles wider than what is ever asked of Republicans.

Dionne should have realized that without a single Republican voice really questioning how anyone can talk about more or more permanent tax cuts, they deserve praise for exactly nothing.

Posted by: Leah A | Mar 19, 2005 6:45:24 PM


I'm a passsionate Democrat, but I think you've got Gordon Smith wrong. I don't agree with him on tax cuts, but what he did opposing the Administration's Medicaid cuts took courage. If you think that he was getting a free ride or having it easy on bucking his party on something as big as opposing drastic budget-driven Medicaid cuts, I think you are being unfairly harsh. Smith, a cousin of the Udalls has tended to be progressive on issues around health care since he's been in the Senate. He is a leader in promoting home and community based care for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. He supports mental health parity and he believes in the need for a social safety net.

I think he's become even more passionate about these issues since one of his sons, Garrett, committed suicide due to a combination of mental health issues and learning disabilities. Smith has said that for him, pursuing positive changes in health care policy gives his son's memory meaning.

Look at this passage from the New York Times, which I believe substantiates my point that he actually cares about health care for the poor.

"Mr. Smith, who had been under intense pressure from party leaders to either change or withdraw the measure, said afterward that he thought it sent a strong message that his colleagues were uneasy about the reductions."

"I think a lot of us have trouble just looking at a ledger," Mr. Smith said, "while ignoring some of the most sensitive needs of the poor."

It is fair for you to assert that his position on tax cuts is wrong. But I do not think it is fair to question his sincerity about standing up for health care.

Posted by: dsquared | Mar 20, 2005 1:08:21 AM

I was mildly cheered by Medicaid cuts being averted until I began to read more widely... now it seems to me that the tax cut parts of the bill outweigh the value of (temporarily?) avoided Medicaid cuts.

We need a blog that devotes itself to following the tax travesties the same way Talking Points Memo and its Bankruptcy Extra follow Social Security and the credit card bill.

Posted by: Nell Lancaster | Mar 21, 2005 12:01:14 PM

Of course some individuals are currently without drug coverage or are receiving their prescription drugs through Medicaid. For those without coverage, the new benefit means that they will now be able to participate in a prescription drug program.

Posted by: Andrew Spark | Feb 14, 2006 3:28:33 AM