Triumph of the Big Spenders


You might have noticed a bit of turbulence in Washington recently.  That’s because the approach of the debt ceiling briefly took the Big Government jumbo jet off autopilot.  It never really changed course, but there were some loud arguments from the cockpit, making the bankers sitting in first class a bit nervous.  Now a deal has been struck, and if it gets through Congress, we’ll go back on autopilot.  We’re still headed at the side of a cliff, but airspeed will be reduced slightly, and the ride should be smooth until impact.  The captain has instructed passengers to stay seated, and shut up, just in case unexpected electoral turbulence is encountered before we crash.

The Wall Street Journal hails the compromise as meeting the definition of a “good political compromise,” because it “has something for everyone to hate.”  In other words, we can still see the rapidly approaching cliff out of our passenger windows, but we’re flying slower than the leftist passengers want us to. 

Look at it this way: if Congress had reached a deal to simply freeze everything – nothing in the federal government is cut, but nothing grows, either – it would be considered a $9 trillion spending cut by the Congressional Budget Office, thanks to the magic of “baseline budgeting.”  Obama’s bloated, worst-in-history spending is the new normal, so anything less is described as a “cut.”  In the plain English used by American citizens, a 10-year spending reduction of $9 trillion would be a “freeze,” and anything over $9 trillion would be a “cut.”

It only took Obama two years to jack the already suicidal Bush baseline up by 30%.  The deal celebrated by the Wall Street Journal ratifies this increase as eternal.  It’s completely impossible to get back to where Bush left us, and his spending was already unsustainable.  Incontinental Airlines just doesn’t fly that slow any more.

Instead, after weeks of panic and drama, Washington has decided it will spend only $12 trillion more over the next 10 years, instead of $15 trillion.  The Journal calls this “a victory for the cause of smaller government, arguably the biggest since welfare reform in 1996.”  Not to take anything away from the achievement of welfare reform, but I can’t help but notice it didn’t make government any “smaller.”  The size of government increased relentlessly under Clinton and Bush, then exploded under Obama.  A few more of these “victories for the cause of smaller government,” and we’ll have all the economic freedom of Mussolini’s Italy.

The Journal thinks the first round of spending growth rate decreases (gosh, it’s so much easier to just say “cuts,” even though that’s not true!) will “go some way to erasing the fiscal damage from the Obama-Nancy Pelosi stimulus.”  That stimulus heist was pulled off with a single piece of legislation in 2009, and grabbed $900 billion in fresh new government spending instantly, but by 2021 we might just have made some progress toward correcting the fiscal damage it caused.  In the game between Big Government and the American taxpayer, we have nothing but pawns, and Big Government gets ten moves to our one.

The greatest increase in the size of government during our lives, ObamaCare, is treated as completely untouchable, a permanent multi-trillion dollar surge in government spending that was implemented with a single, bloated bill, shoved down our throats in a midnight vote, over the objections of a strong majority of Americans.  Chad Pergram of Fox News quotes a House Republican during the final hours of the debt ceiling negotiation: “GOP has surrendered on implementation of Obama Care. All tax increases for it protected as revenue; and Medicaid (how people are brought under Obama Care) is walled off in sequestration.”

Our money, on the other hand, enjoys no such sequestration from Washington’s appetites.  The Wall Street Journal crows that the debt-ceiling deal includes “no immediate tax increases,” which is supposed to be a huge victory for Republicans.  By “no immediate tax increases,” they mean your taxes won’t go up today.  They’re guaranteed to soar in 2013, when the Bush tax cuts expire, and this new deal virtually guarantees that those tax cuts cannot be extended.  Note for anyone dumb enough to take Obama’s class-warfare rhetoric seriously: those aren’t just “tax cuts for the rich” expiring.  The only thing this deal is guaranteed to “cut” is your take-home pay.

Your taxes will probably go up long before 2013, though.  The “deficit reduction Super Commission” will see to that.  Here’s how the Journal describes it:

The second phase of the deal is less clear cut, though it also could turn out to shrink Leviathan. Party leaders in both houses of Congress will each appoint three Members to a special committee that will recommend another round of deficit reduction of between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion, also over 10 years. Their mandate is broad, and we’re told very little is off the table, but at least seven of the 12 Members would have to agree on a package to force an up-or-down vote in Congress.

If the committee can’t agree on enough deficit reduction, then automatic spending cuts would ensue to make up the difference to reach the $1.2 trillion minimum deficit-reduction target. One key point is that the committee’s failure to agree would not automatically “trigger” (in Beltway parlance) revenue increases, as the White House was insisting on as recently as this weekend. That would have guaranteed that Democrats would never agree to enough cuts, and Republicans were right to resist.

Instead the automatic cuts would be divided equally between defense and nondefense. So, for example, if the committee agrees to deficit reduction of only $600 billion, then another $300 billion would be cut automatically from defense and domestic accounts (excluding Medicare beneficiaries) to reach at least $1.2 trillion.

Again, absolutely nothing under consideration here will “shrink Leviathan.”  If the debt reduction Super Commission kicks ass during its meetings, it will shave perhaps 10% off the growth of Leviathan.

If the Super Commission can’t make a deal for $1.2 trillion in spending growth reductions, then we get an automatic $600 billion in cuts, half from defense and half from everything else.  (Notice how the amount getting “cut” is shrinking rapidly, even as this deal is explained to us?  Remember when the Gang of Six was talking about $3.7 trillion in cuts, just a couple of weeks ago?  But this deal is a triumph for the Tea Party, if only they weren’t too stupid to properly appreciate it!)

This “trigger” system is supposed to incentivize both Republicans and Democrats to strike a good $1.2 trillion deal in the Super Commission.  Note the implied assumption that Democrats don’t care about national defense at all – that’s supposed to be the $300 billion gun pointed at Republican heads.

The Super Commission gives Democrats every reason in the world to remain intransigent on real spending cuts (well, growth rate reduction increases) and then frame the choice as between “asking the rich to pay their fair share” and “savage cuts to defense and vital social services.”  Any language preventing the increase of existing tax rates will be easily circumvented by creating an exciting new tax for everyone to pay.  Democrats have been talking about one ever since the beginning of the Obama Depression: a Value Added Tax, basically a hidden sales tax slapped on every level of production and sales.  You won’t see a “tax increase” on your 1040EZ, but you’ll suddenly be paying 30% more for almost everything you buy, and fresh billions will roll into Washington, facilitating more government spending without any unsightly new deficits.  Won’t that be wonderful?

The Journal understands this aspect of the deal they’re celebrating.  They just try to whistle past the graveyard.

This trigger is intended to be an incentive for committee Members of both parties to agree on more cuts, but defense cuts of this magnitude would do far more harm to national security than they would to domestic accounts that have been fattened by stimulus. This is the worst part of the deal, and Mr. Obama’s political goal will be to press Republicans to choose between tax increases and destructive defense cuts. The GOP will have to fight back and make the choice between domestic cuts and harm to our troops fighting multiple wars.

While the “trigger” includes no revenue increases, the committee itself could agree to raise taxes to meet the $1.2 trillion deficit reduction target. This means GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have to be especially careful in their choice of appointees. No one from the Senate Gang of Six, who proposed tax increases, need apply. The GOP choices should start with Arizona Senator Jon Kyl and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, adding four others who will follow their lead.

So the committee trigger mechanism would “do far more harm to national security than they would to domestic accounts that have been fattened by stimulus,” but rest assured, this deal is a great victory for limited-government conservatives!

Just to make sure there is absolutely no political benefit for conservatives from this great compromise, the Wall Street Journal’s editors finish up with some more cheap shots at the people they called “hobbits” last week:

The same supposedly conservative Republicans and their talk radio minders may denounce this deal as a sellout, but we’ll be charitable and assume they’ve climbed so far out on the political ledge they don’t know how to climb back without admitting they were wrong. They’re right that this deal doesn’t “solve” our fiscal crisis, but no such deal is possible as long as liberals run the Senate and White House.

The debt ceiling is a political hostage the GOP could never afford to shoot, and this deal is about the best Republicans could have hoped for given that the limit had to be raised. The Jim DeMint-Michele Bachmann-Sean Hannity alternative of refusing to raise the debt limit without a balanced-budget amendment and betting that Mr. Obama would get all the blame vanishes upon contact with any thought. Sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage.

Hey, thanks a lot for playing into that stupid “hostage” rhetoric the far Left started dishing out last week, Journal editors!  It’s great that you’re so willing to carry their narratives for them.  Perhaps they’ll reward you by easing up on the mindless class-warfare rhetoric, and doing a good job of trimming that monster deficit by another 10% during the Super Commission hearings. 

Or do you think the Tea Party stalwarts you keep insulting, on behalf of the irresponsible Left, will flood the polls in 2012 and give Republicans a filibuster-proof Senate majority, plus the White House?  Because when the national debt soars past $17 trillion, and the wings of Washington’s jumbo jet burst into flames, I’m betting that we’ll hear deafening screams that today’s deal did not raise taxes enough… and anyone who says spending is obviously still the problem will be hammered with quotes pulled from old Wall Street Journal editorials. 

Today’s “big victory” will be cited exactly the way the Journal describes it, and then the Left will say that since “fiscal conservatism” obviously couldn’t solve the problem, it’s time to do things their way.  That’s the problem with reaching big, headline-grabbing “compromises” that don’t seriously address the problem.  The government will grow by 70% or so, total collapse will draw closer, and we’ll be told the only thing we haven’t really tried yet was big tax increases… because real spending cuts always have been, and always will be, off the table and beyond the pale.  That’s the only idea that never seems to be challenged.  The debt-ceiling deal is a signed promise that it doesn’t have to worry about challenges for years to come.