Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVES....Atrios is right. Andrew Sullivan is just being incoherent here in his defense of his own conservatism:

So let's recap: I'm in favor of Bush's tax cuts, but want spending cuts to match them; I favor balanced budgets; I favored and favor the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, but want to execute them competently, with enough troops....I want more money for defense....

Bush's tax cuts haven't touched Social Security or Medicare taxes (and both programs run surpluses anyway). They've been solely cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes. These are the taxes that fund discretionary spending.

Discretionary spending in 2005 was roughly $1 trillion. About half of that was for defense and national security, which Sullivan doesn't want to cut. That leaves $500 billion, which funds the entire rest of the federal government.

The federal deficit for 2005 was over $400 billion.

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

These are round numbers, but you get the idea. Cutting a few agricultural subsidies and eliminating Amtrak isn't going to do the trick. Even taking an axe to social welfare programs wouldn't do it. You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government outside the Defense Department. So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get rid of. The FBI? Prisons? EPA? The federal courts? Housing assistance? Highways? The National Institutes of Health?

What's it going to be?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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Comments

The Easter Egg Roll has to be good for a couple thou.

Posted by: Matt on March 20, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon, don't believe the math! If you cut all discretionary funding ... well, you wouldn't have a balanced budget, but the country would be better!

Better than the balanced budget, rising markets, and declining poverty of Clinton / Gore!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 20, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Face it. Republicans don't do numbers. Numbers are hard work.

Posted by: Joel on March 20, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

You've been making out with Big Government behind the woodshed again haven't you? So, do you like him or do you like him, like him?

Silly libruls.

Posted by: enozinho on March 20, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

PS -- Kevin, thanks for not using the "real" deficit numbers, with all those pesky "special requests" for Halliburton, etc. And not for mentioning that 40% of our income taxes go to just paying interest on the debt ... wait! Just stop paying that!

$30,000 in debt for every man, woman, and child. As Andrew Tobias points out (without mentioning all the schools we're painting!):

So theyve raised the national debt ceiling to $9 trillion. That should hold us for another year or so.

I may not have mentioned this (have I?) but its interesting to note that by the time the Republicans leave the White House January 20, 2009, if they do, our accumulated-since 1776 National Debt will be $10 trillion roughly $8 trillion of it racked up by just three presidents: Reagan, Bush, and Bush.

Even today not yet at the $10 trillion level, and at todays relatively low interest rates the annual interest on this debt is equivalent to about 40% of all the personal income taxes Americans pay.

It is terrible to think of the damage thats been done to our country, at home and abroad, in five short years.

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 20, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon. You know it isn't about being taken seriously, or even making sense. Sully's just chanting his articles of faith again.

Posted by: nightshift66 on March 20, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

There really isn't any getting round it, we are going to have to increase taxes. Don't many of the Bush tax cuts sunset?

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Don't many of the Bush tax cuts have sunset provisions?

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

Wrong Kevin. Cutting tax rates causes greater incentive for people to work. This raises the tax revenues so we actually have to cut less programs. So cutting tax rates does not mean we have to cut spending in order to get a balanced budget.

Posted by: Al on March 20, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Ron, yes, but the Republicans are fighting to having those sunset provisions removed.

Posted by: Ben Cochran on March 20, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

> So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he
> needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get
> rid of. The FBI? Prisons? EPA? The federal courts?
> Housing assistance? Highways? The National
> Institutes of Health?

Quite honestly, yes: I think that is exactly what Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Norquist want to cut. Or a partial list anyway.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 20, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that you only get to the $400 billion deficit level by using the surplus social security reciepts to hide the real size of the deficit.

Posted by: terry on March 20, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

nightshift is right: Sullivan's not worried about consistency or rationality; he's just babbling the catechism.

Part of it is the Tinkerbell Strategy, part of it is preparing to jettison Bush for not being of the True Faith, and I think part of it is increasingly desperate denial.

"Desperate conservatives." That has kind of a nice ring to it...

Posted by: bleh on March 20, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

The size of the debt rolled up by Reagan and the Bushes says simply, "Yes. Around 1980 the Republican Party became a cover for gangsters." There's no way around that conclusion. No honest politician would have advocated the policies of those 3. Hoodlums. Pure and simple.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 20, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Stupid question, but how much of this deficit is offset by the surplus created by the Medicare and Social Security taxes?

Posted by: theorajones on March 20, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

Yes - let's start with slashing the NIH, and see what happens to Sullivan's HIV-infected ass.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 20, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a rational argument for making the Bush tax cuts permanent? No snarks please. I realize there probably isn't, I want to know what Sullivan and other conservatives might argue.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

There is a reason Conservatives don't allow comments on their blogs. They don't have any facts to back up their insane claims.

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on March 20, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

The logical incoherence of modern Amercian conservatism exposed.

The big irony here is that Clinton persued policies (balanced budget; spending restraint) that made a conservative approach to the federal governent possible. Bush has persued policies (debt and pork) that make a conservative approach to the federal government impossible.

The next President of the United States will have to increase taxation to fix Bush's mess.
Maybe the sunsets will let the new Prez fly under the radar, but politically it might be better to make a big stink about Bush and the GOP's unpaid bills.

Posted by: Nemesis on March 20, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Okay so small government conservatives put their faith in fuzzy math, and Christian conservatives put their faith in Bush and prayer.

Whose says we aren't in Kansas anymore?

Posted by: koreyel on March 20, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

I can't tell if that's the real "Al" or a fake "Al" saying the obvious nonsense.

If you cut taxes, the very rich buy more yachts, villas and offshore investments.

Cutting taxes does not automatically make revenue go up. It almost certainly makes it go down. There's no guarantee that the top 1% will take that money and invest it anywhere in the US, let alone in creating new jobs.

Cutting Taxes does not make The Magic Revenue Fairy come down and refill the coffers. It's never happened.

Posted by: zmulls on March 20, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

A word about the sunset clauses.

Bush and his minions like to claim that allowing the tax cuts to expire is tantamount to a tax increase.

But if that's true, it's important to bear in mind that the sunset provisions -- which was the mechanism by which Bush convinced some few deficit-concious Republicans to sign on -- were voted for by Republicans and signed by Bush himself.

The GOP, knowing that "tax cuts forever!" is one of the few arrows it has left in its political quiver, has made no bones about repealing the sunset clauses, to force Democrats to, as they would have it, "vote for tax increases." The Democrats have had since the first round of tax cuts to prepare a frame on this issue.

Given the current Democratic crew, one wonders if they have.

Posted by: Gregory on March 20, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

And let's not forget, executing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars "with enough troops" has always been impossible. A lot of the problems in Iraq (and Afghanistan, for that matter) can be blamed on post-invasion bungling, but not our lack of troops. We never had enough troops to occupy both countries and expect any chance of success.

Is this not obvious to Sullivan? It's not as if we have a bunch of troops sitting around and picking their noses. Nearly everyone available soldier is either preparing for Iraq or Afghanistan, recovering from Iraq or Afghanistan, or in Iraq or Afghanistan. The lack of troops in Iraq doesn't confirm the fact that the administration bungled the Iraq War. It confirms the fact that they never should've started the war to begin with and, consequently, that we should get out of there fast.

Posted by: keptsimple on March 20, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Why does anyone pay attention to Sullivan? His only claim to fame is helping destroy the TNR.

Yes - let's start with slashing the NIH, and see what happens to Sullivan's HIV-infected ass.
Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten

Are you parodying Charlie or channeling him? Really poor taste there, OBF.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 20, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I have a hard time understanding Kevin's apparent fascination with what Andrew Sullivan thinks.

Posted by: shortstop on March 20, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I have a hard time understanding Kevin's apparent fascination with what Andrew Sullivan thinks.
Posted by: shortstop

The worst, though, is Eric Alterman, who is positively obsessed with him.

Kevin gives Reynolds way too much notice as well.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 20, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Nice sleight-of-hand, Kevin:

"Bush's tax cuts haven't touched Social Security or Medicare taxes (and both programs run surpluses anyway). They've been solely cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes. These are the taxes that fund discretionary spending."

Money is money. There is no way to "segregate" entitlement taxes and expenditures from the rest of the budget, other than legal formalities. It's perfectly possible to cut the entitlements as one alternative to pay for tax cuts.

Posted by: peanut on March 20, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Cutting tax rates causes greater incentive for people to work"

What people are you talking about? Most working people don't have any alternative to working - high taxes or not. And I don't see any Fortune 100 CEO's turning down multi-million dollar salaries because there is not incentive to work.

Posted by: CParis on March 20, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Damn communists, they are everywhere. No wonder we have global warming.

Posted by: Matt on March 20, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the 2005 federal deficit have been MORE than $400 billion if funds weren't taken from the Social Security trust fund surplus?

Posted by: Gary on March 20, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

A wonderful visual illustration of how much tax revenue goes is where available at: www.deviantart.com/deviation/9410862 .

Posted by: Ted on March 20, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Cutting tax rates causes greater incentive for people to work.

I'm on salary and already work 40+. Unfortunately, cutting tax rates doesn't provide any incentive for my employer to pay me more. Nor has it stopped him from making me work more.

Any more bright ideas, Al?

Posted by: tomeck on March 20, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Stop picking on Al! Just because the Bush tax cuts have ballooned the deficit doesn't mean he has to pay any attention to that "fact." Bah--facts!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on March 20, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Discretionary spending" is a myth. Congress is perfectly free to use its discretion to cut entitlement spending. Government funds are fungible. The elimination of the Medicare drug benefit, means testing Social Security, and severely restricting Medicare and Medicaid spending on the terminally ill would easily be enough to eliminate the deficit. A simple change in our policy on physician-assisted suicide (legalize it and strongly encourage it) would go a long way toward balancing the budget.

Posted by: FXKLM on March 20, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Are you parodying Charlie or channeling him? Really poor taste there, OBF.
Posted by: Jeff II on March 20, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

No.

Cutting vets benefits, and saying "support the troops" is in bad taste.

I'm really sick of these idiotic wanna-be-Libertarians, who don't realize how fucked we'd all be if we cut government spending where they say they'd like it to be cut. They like to believe that their own "rugged individualism" will save them, (and destroy the "unworthy" - the poor, the less pale-skinned, the less well-socially connected, etc.)

Sullivan's too much of a puss to pick a side, and admit that he's a Liberal. He'll still be kissing Rush Limbaugh's ass as they chain him to the back of a pickup truck for a good dragging.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 20, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter peanut, FXKLM: when "balancing" the budget, it's perfectly reasonable to violate federal law, use creative accounting practices, and commit fraud.

Yes, that's quite consistent with the practices of the current regime in Washington.

Posted by: alex on March 20, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

This whole topic relates to an idea I've been noodling over these last couple weeks.

My hypothesis is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, Bush has not failed fundamentally due to incompetence. Instead, he has crashed and burned due to the utter and basic failure of the conservative ideas he has attempted to implement.

The point is, NO ONE could have done a materially better job, given the policies he has adopted. He has, in the great majority of the cases, likely used among the best available people who would actually implement the policies as stipulated -- as opposed to using career bureaucrats or otherwise knowledgeable people who would find themselves unable to execute those policies, except on direct order.

This is true of the Bush doctrine, a sharply articulated policy, which, however, gave us the Iraq situation in inevitable consequence. It's true of the tax cuts, which his conservative policies absolutely demanded. The budget deficit was the ineluctable product, because the bare running of the government rendered it impossible to match the tax cuts with spending cuts.

Bush and Cheney really represent the working out of the Conservative ideology that has been cooked up in the exalted right wing "think tanks". Maybe someone could have done it slightly better, maybe someone could have done it with less lying, maybe someone could have done it while appearing more intelligent, and with more inspiring rhetoric.

But the real failure here is the failure of the ideology itself. Conservatives wanted to take our country through a major experiment in governing policy. They succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings.

What failed, wretchedly and despicably, was the experiment itself.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 20, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Y'know, since Sullivan so often confuses his own personal hobby horses for something broader (e.g., his 'Is AIDS over? I got my meds' idiocy), it's quite possible that he thinks Bush's tax cuts are dandy because he's felt their effects in his own pocket. Ergo, they're good.

Oh, for the Al's out there, I suspect I've seen some short-term gains from Bush's tax policies, myself. Of course, I was already doing pretty well, so it's debatable how much I needed the "relief". And I'd happily give up those modest benefits to forestall the economic shitstorm that I strongly suspect Bush has set in motion....

Posted by: sglover on March 20, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

While I can appreciate your use of round numbers, the 400 billion deficit vastly underestimates the problem, in part because it allows the social security surplus mask the red ink.

The governments on-budget deficit for 2005 was $495 billion.

According to the 158-page report, the fiscal 2005 federal deficit on an accrual basis was $760 billion, using generally accepted accounting principles that private businesses must use to present their finances.

That is an increase of $144 billion, or 23 percent, over the previous year's deficit of $616 billion.


Shouldn't real conservatives want to look at government finances like a business?
Second, the U.S. governments totalreported liabilities, net social insurance commitments2 and other fiscal exposures continue to grow and now total more than $46 trillion, representing close to four times current GDP and up from about $20 trillion or two times GDP in 2000. Finally, while the nations long-term fiscal imbalance continues to grow, the retirement of the baby boom generation is closer to becoming a reality with the first wave of boomers eligible for early retirement under Social Security in 2008. Given these and other factors, it seems clear that the nations current fiscal path is unsustainable and that tough choices by the President and the Congress are necessary in order to address the nations large and growing long-term fiscal imbalance.
- MEDIA ADVISORY GAO Again Disclaims An Opinion on U.S. Government's Financial Statements Dec 15, 2005

The problem is even more serious as time rolls on. Even cutting 80% of government programs ultimately wont be enough the current tax policy remains, especially if the Congress fixes the AMT.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 20, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's fascination with Sullivan is understandable.

Just like tbrosz on this board, Sullivan makes a lot of noise about his understanding of various issues to give to the casual reader the impression that his positions are well and rationally thought out. When subjected to even a cursory scrutiny Sullivan's claims turn out to be less than well-founded.

And like tbrosz, Sullivan likes to prortay all the critics of the Bushistas as soaked in Bush hatred and somehow disloyal to the nation and loyal to its enemies.

Posted by: lib on March 20, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget, he wants to increase defense spending. That'll cut into his remaining $100 billion.

Posted by: Royko on March 20, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a rational argument for making the Bush tax cuts permanent? No snarks please. I realize there probably isn't, I want to know what Sullivan and other conservatives might argue.
Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

There is a branch of economic thought that holds that all things being equal an economy will perform better, be more efficient and grow faster if taxes are lower.

Now all this is true enough at a basic level, however over time more and more economists have discovered that there is a limit to the improved growth and efficiency that you can achieve from tax cuts. Like for example when you can achieve lower taxes but only if the roads are repaved once every 10 years instead of once every 5 years OR you can get lower taxes but your kids grade 3 class now has 40 kids in it instead of 25 because we had to cut a teacher.

Conservative thinkers like sullivan say the extra economic growth caused by the tax cut is great than any economic loss from the drop in public spending. Centrist thinkers say that sometimes the loss in public spending can negate any productivity or growth gains from the tax cut.

My take is the following. Tax cuts have diminishing returns in that the first tax cut from high taxes gives you the greatest economic effect but each additional cut from lower levels of taxation generates less and less economic stumulation. So going from a top marginal tax rate of 60 to 39 makes a great impact. But going from 39 to 30 would makes less of and impact and going from 30 to 25 even less so.
An additional point is that in a situation where the United States government is running annual deficits, a tax cut is not really a tax cut, it is a delayed future tax increase which uses the intrument of debt to project itself into the future. A deficit situation reduces the benefit of any tax cut since the borrowed money and the interest on that borrowed money must be paid for to make it a net economic gain. Bush's cut has not done this and based on serious analysis (Krugman, Delong, Roubini, Roach) it never will.

I hope that answers your question.
Always remain skeptical of the economic "laws" the pundits spout on TV. Pundits and journalists are often outdated in their knowledge and understanding of how economies really work, and a lot of new knowledge is being produced in this field every year (while the book the pundit based his opinion in was probably written in 1972.)

Posted by: Nemesis on March 20, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Peanut is not only wrong, in stating that "money is money and it is perfectly acceptable to cut entitlements" but the fact that this argument is made either shows an ignorance which the Dems need to correct asap or a willingness to lie which is even worse.

It is far from a "legal formality" for example, that the earmarked SS trust fund tax on wages not only lapses after the first 90K in wage income, but is also a completely separate tax paid by the employer.

Medicare, with its tax which applies to all income, is still not a "legal formality" becase there is no medicare tax on non-wage income.

Its fine to discuss these two insurance programs until the cows come home, but they are, at bottom insurance programs, and well run at that. Moreover, they are insurance programs which (unlike all private insurance companies) are not tied to the performance of the stock market, which is a critical distinction to maintain. I've never gotten over the fact that "consrvatives," who ought to understand portfolio management theory if anyone does, tried to mandate the SS "reform" which basically increased risk.

No, its critical to begin any tax discussion with a real-world understanding of the actual budget, including the size of "defense" spending in proportion to all non-SS non-Medicare spending.

Republicans get alot of mileage out of constantly dissing "the government." This has to be fought.

Posted by: hank on March 20, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

tomeck,

I think Al's idea is that your boss will have an incentive and the money to buy a nice chalet in the Swiss alps, to invest in a new Chinese sweatshop, or to purchase another new BMW or Lexis for his trophy wife. That is supposed to put more money into the American economy, and give your wife a chance to make more at her Wal-Mart job.

The real theory is based on a commonly held belief the effect of introducing new money into a closed economic system. Community development people will tell you that new money in a local economy has is a multiplier effect. AS I recall every dollar put into a local economy has the effective impact of about 7 dollars, or something like that.

How Al's thinking works in the modern world, however, I don't understand since your boss is purchasing foreign real estate, investing in a Chinese company, or buying a foreign car as opposed to the Federal Government buying goods in the US local economy.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK


AL: Wrong Kevin. Cutting tax rates causes greater incentive for people to work.

Yeah, because, you know, when I started noticing that $4.31 less was being taken out of my weekly paycheck, I was suddenly overcome with a desire to bust my ass even harder at work to help to sort of make up just a little for the great windfall that I had gotten. Oh, and my lazy brother-in-law, who never would work at all... well, when he saw how much he'd be able to make after the tax cuts, he rushed right out and got a job immediately and has been a busy beaver ever since. So, yeah, you make perfect sense, Al. What I don't get, though, is if cutting taxes causes greater incentive for people to work, why don't we cut them completely so we can have even better services, a bigger and better military, and not only eliminate the $9 trillion debt, but create an unlimited surplus? Soon, everyone in the world would be a billionaire, which would obviously also eliminate terrorism, because billionaires don't do evil.

Oh, wait, I just remembered that billionaires kill people by the thousands--by the millions, in fact. So scratch all that above. But you do perform a good service, Al. If ever anyone has any doubt about whether something Kevin says is right or wrong, simply look to Al's assessment of it and you will know immediately, with 100% confidence, that Kevin is right if Al says he's wrong, wrong if Al says he's right. It's foolproof.


Posted by: jayarbee on March 20, 2006 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Cutting Taxes does not make The Magic Revenue Fairy come down and refill the coffers. It's never happened.
Posted by: zmulls on March 20, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, in this case it did.

The tax-amnesty written into the cuts that allowed corporations to re-patriate funds that they had stashed overseas as a tax dodge (ie. fraud), brought in huge corporate profits on the books, which did have the effect of raising revenues. More importantly, it allowed them to claim that GDP was going up, and the economy was looking good, and that the deficit wasn't all that bad when looked at as a percentage of GDP.

So they provided a credible illusion of revenue gain, in the short term. But the parade can't last forever, because there's a finite amount of revenue left to repatriate.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 20, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bush and Cheney really represent the working out of the Conservative ideology that has been cooked up in the exalted right wing "think tanks". Maybe someone could have done it slightly better, maybe someone could have done it with less lying, maybe someone could have done it while appearing more intelligent, and with more inspiring rhetoric.

The most hilarious thing in politics these days is watching right-wingers piss and moan about how Bush has "betrayed the ideals" of the sainted Ronnie. Hell, Bush is in every way the logical successor to the Reagan "legacy". Every botch is what you get when you couple Reaganaut ignorance with a neutered opposition. And look at how many Reagan apparatchiks got yanked out of think tank cryogenic storage, and replanted in the White House. Nope, the Boy Prince is doing the Gipper proud....

Posted by: sglover on March 20, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Sullivan's too much of a puss to pick a side, and admit that he's a Liberal. He'll still be kissing Rush Limbaugh's ass as they chain him to the back of a pickup truck for a good dragging. Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten

I essentially agree with you, but I don't think he really has much of a conservative audience nor that any of the conservative powers that be give a shit about having him on the team.

He's not too bashful about being gay, and I don't imagine that plays too well in the heartland.

In other words, he's not going to be converting anyone who already isn't conservative. Getting excited about Sullivan is like getting excited about the "power" of blogs.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 20, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure money is that fungible.

Entitlements are funded by a tax dedicated to those purposes. That is, by law money collected for social security can be spent only on social security. That's why we have a trust fund.

Just because president Bush wants to raid the fund by claiming that we don't have to pay back the money we borrowed out of it doesn't mean it's legal.

So, no, you can't cut spending on social security and shift the money to the Deaprtment of the Interior--at least you can't do it legally.

Posted by: theorajones on March 20, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Nemesis, Thanks. Obviously, my last post is just my wild guess. Your point is far, far better.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

As Kevin is obviously deaf to 1) sound research validating the Laffer curve and 2) current evidence of our booming economy, I'll take a slightly different tact.

We could actually fund the federal government for a good many years by privatizing public lands, roads, and buildings. They would be run much more efficiently when we were done.

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to get rid of NIH, USGS, EPA, prisons, and courts. If there was a valid economic purpose for their existence they would be replaced by private enterprise. Not much would be lost if the government stopped studying obscure diseases, Aleutian volcanoes, clapper rails, frog hormones, and the physchological problems of sex offenders. IMHO, if we cut domestic discretionary spending 80%, congress would stop putting up with corruption and pork.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 20, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute.. favoring balanced budgets doesn't mean you try to correct the current mess by balancing the budget next year.. you correct things gradually, not all in one shot. So the $400 billion target doesn't really make sense. In fact, it would be acting "incoherent" to try to eliminate the budget deficit in the next budget, there is no reason to do so.

And lowering tax RATES does not necessarily mean lowering tax REVENUES.. the deficit did not go away during the Clinton years because he kept raising taxes, but because the economy kept improving, so more tax revenue was collected without needing to raise tax rates.

Posted by: bobinnv on March 20, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

OBF, that's a decent point; but the tax amnesty (smart policy to bring the money in) is unrelated to the general idea of cutting taxes to "stimulate growth."

I'm all for forcing/coaxing corporations to pay taxes in the US as they're truly operating in America and their corporate owners are benefitting from being Americans. But cutting taxes is not a panacea.

Everyone agrees that 100% taxation is pure communism and takes all incentive out of the economy; and *almost* everyone agrees that 0% taxation is untenable because you wouldn't have armies or paved roads.

I think the message needs to be to "rightsize" taxes. We don't want to raise them for the sheer fun of it, but we want to pay for what we as a country a) believe we need, and b) owe as obligations.

You want to United States to remain the greatest country in the world -- a model for the rest of the world? Then pony up your share. (or words to that effect)

Posted by: zmulls on March 20, 2006 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0,
Good comments. Seymour Hersh believes the war in Iraq was perpetuated by true believers who really thought the Iraqis would welcome the troops with flowers. The conservative experiment, across the board, is nothing more than an ideological exercise of true believes for whom reality is only a kind of perception. How can a government cut taxes, initiate a major war and involve itself in nation-building without fiscal consequences? You cant have a neocon war to transform the Middle East on Grover Norquists budget. What is secondary to all this is the well-being of the American people. Policy is basically what you can get away with without anyone noticing.

Posted by: bellumregio on March 20, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats want to bash the GOP over big spending, fine.

But they will get NO TRACTION on the issue until they actually propose spending cuts.

Until then, the voters will not take Democrats seriously on the deficit.

Posted by: FrequencyKenneth on March 20, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is obviously deaf to 1) sound research validating the Laffer curve

What can this possibly mean?

Look, if you cut today's tax rates across the board by 90%, does the economy immediately grow by a factor of 10 to make up the difference?

I think the answer is no.

So the only real question is: are we now ALREADY at a point when any expected growth after any tax cut will not compensate for the immediate loss or revenue due to the tax cut?

THAT, I would expect, is not something trivial to answer, least of all simply by pointing to a curve.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 20, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

FrequencyKenneth,

What cuts do you propose?

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 20, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

"As Kevin is obviously deaf to 1) sound research validating the Laffer curve..."

This is the oldest trick in the pundit manual: phrase a highly dubious claim as an offhand remark that's barely worth mentioning to make it sound like an accepted fact.

Posted by: keptsimple on March 20, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Is Kevin jealous that Andrew Sullivan has more readers?

Posted by: MountainDan on March 20, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

On page 386 of David Stockman's book, "The triumph of Politics", he talks about a quiz he put together for Reagan.

"The quiz divided the entire budget up into about fifty spending components and gave him three spending cut choices on each , ranging from a nick to a heavy whack. Next to each choice was a description of what the impact of the cut would be (how many people would be thrown unto the snow), and of its political prospects (e.g., "previously defeated 27-2 in committee")"

The point was to make Reagan looks at the whole budget. Per Stockman, Reagan enjoyed the process. But when he was done the 5 year deficit was still $800B. When Stockman went to give Reagan his grade, Reagan claimed the problem is deficit spending.

My point is that the whole is so deep that you cannot cut your way to balance in any reasonable timeframe without either tax increases, huge defense cuts, or really tackling entitlements.

Posted by: VOR on March 20, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

And lowering tax RATES does not necessarily mean lowering tax REVENUES.

Yes it does. You get to a point where even an increase in economic activity isn't sufficient to pay for even basic services, which is pretty much where we are heading.

the deficit did not go away during the Clinton years because he kept raising taxes, but because the economy kept improving, so more tax revenue was collected without needing to raise tax rates. Posted by: bobinnv

Taxes weren't raised, but they were higher than they are today. Raise taxes back to those levels, and it wouldn't hurt the economy a bit, especially if it's as robust as all the T-Bones in the world would have us believe (which it isn't).

However, as the tax cuts have gone overwhelmingly to people already so wealthy that paying even 20% more than they do today wouldn't curb their personal spending in the least. Tax cuts have the greatest effect on the middle-class as they have, compared both to the poor and the wealthy, less personal budget elasticity.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 20, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Who says they want balanced budgets? They are doing fine defunding Government programs just fine thank you. As for the bill, well you and the other liberal do-gooders can work on that later. I suspect that you will need to cut domestic spending further along with a modest tax increase.

>end sarcasm

Posted by: padcrasher on March 20, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Face it. Republicans don't do numbers. Numbers are hard work.

Numbers = nuance.

Posted by: ogmb on March 20, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to get rid of NIH, USGS, EPA, prisons, and courts. If there was a valid economic purpose for their existence they would be replaced by private enterprise. Not much would be lost if the government stopped studying obscure diseases, Aleutian volcanoes, clapper rails, frog hormones, and the physchological problems of sex offenders. IMHO, if we cut domestic discretionary spending 80%, congress would stop putting up with corruption and pork.

Oh my god. Circular Strawman has invaded and occupied tbrosz's brain.

LOL.

Posted by: nut on March 20, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Sullivan started out his professional life as a gay, Catholic Tory. Then, he emigrated to America.

His whole personal identity is incoherent. Incoherence is, who he is.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder on March 20, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Scroll up - lots of lefty posters in here can list GOP spending cuts.

As I said, Democrats will get NO TRACTION on the deficit issue until they actually propose spending cuts.

Posted by: FrequencyKenneth on March 20, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

A fake tbrosz wrote: "As Kevin is obviously deaf to 1) sound research validating the Laffer curve and 2) current evidence of our booming economy, I'll take a slightly different tact."

People, always check the e-mail address of a tbrosz post. The trolls are simply too good at parodying tbrosz' faith-based economic and military opinions. The only way to tell the difference is to check the e-mail address.

Posted by: PaulB on March 20, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Again, Sullivan is on some serious meds, many of which clearly affect his reasoning.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 20, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK
So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

It's worse than that: Sullivan claims he wants more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; now, you can squeeze a few more combat forces out of, say, South Korea and a few other places, but not a whole lot. Almost certainly any substantial increase in troop deployments that isn't a short-term surge means more recruiting and training, which means not just a linear increase in associated costs but even more, as, unless you further lower standards, you'll need to ramp up advertising, and financial incentives.

That means Sullivan wants to increase defense spending, so it would probably require cutting the entirety of non-security federal discretionary spending.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK
Kevin is obviously deaf to 1) sound research validating the Laffer curve

No one, not even conservatives, really believe we are in the range where cutting tax rates increases tax revenues, even if the Laffer curve has some applicability.

How do I know this? Every time a liberal program is proposed that would arguably increase government spending (e.g., universal healthcare), conservatives argue that the program would require raising taxes to pay for it.

If they believed their own rhetoric about the Laffer curve, they would argue that the program would necessitate lowering taxes to pay for it, as they would believe that at the current tax rates, lowering tax rates increased revenue and raising rates decreased revenue.

Since, in fact, they argue the reverse, it is eminently clear that they don't really believe what they say about the Laffer curve; its just a rhetorical trick brought out only to justify tax cuts that they know are, in fact, irresponsible.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

So let's recap: I'm in favor of Bush's tax cuts, but want spending cuts to match them; I favor balanced budgets; ...I want more money for defense....

"Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony and a little plastic rocket..."

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft on March 20, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Talk about your head-in-the-cloud dreamer!

I suppose we could run the government for awhile by selling off its hard assets but what then? What happens when the assets are all gone?

No courts? How do you settle disputes? Private courts? How do you enforce the rulings? How do you eliminate corruption?

What an idiotic idea.

Posted by: Tripp on March 20, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

First off, the Laffer Curve is a simple concept. The argument is over where one maximizes revenue on the Laffer Curve. Quite obviously, the Bush tax cuts moved us further away from optimization. Clinton had moved us closer but we probably could have squeezed a bit more efficiency out of our nation with higher taxes. Like it or not, government spending boosts the economy as well.

And as for Sullivan, I read him daily. I like him because he thinks completely differently than me but is mostly an honest dude. He's certainly no Bush apologist as he's been railing on him for months now. In fact, lately basically every other post has been an anti-Bush screed. He's just an emotional guy and was an Ass toward the anti-war crowd after 9/11 but I appreciate his anti-torture stuff and his desire to point out how horrible a Prez Bush is.

Lastly I would like to point out that our biggest spending problem in terms of the deficit is Defense. Soon we'll be paying as much for defense as the rest of the world combined. Paranoid much. Sometimes I'm embarrased to live among all my cowering frightened fellow citizens, especially the convervatives who seem to be afraid of everything.

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

What's it going to be?
Fairly easy, let's break our our handy dandy copy of the Constitution and find out what Congress is supposed to be doing:

- To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
- To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
- To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
- To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
- To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
- To establish post offices and post roads;
- To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
- To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
- To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
- To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
- To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
- To provide and maintain a navy;
- To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
- To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
- To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--And
- To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.
Huh, from the looks of this, you can trim 80% of the non-military budget.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Instead of saying that Bush put in sunset provisions, we should be saying that he asked for an enormous tax increase, but clever guy that he is, made sure it didn't take effect till after he left office.

Posted by: Boronx on March 20, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Frequency Kenneth wants some spending cuts. How about Defense Kenneth? Or are you so scared that you think it imperative that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. I think we could manage something besides spitballs on half what we spend. Then we'd only spend about 4 times as much as our 2nd place competitor. Or would you be too frightened?

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government. So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get rid of.

Bwahahaha.

Yeah, I love it when ya stick it to these guys.

Of course, their excuse is 'sure, we can get rid of all of it!'

Hahahaha...

*cry*

Posted by: Crissa on March 20, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Fairly easy, let's break our our handy dandy copy of the Constitution and find out what Congress is supposed to be doing:"

How come I don't see the two most important tasks of the Congress in the list... To redistribute wealth amongst the populace and universal healthcare??

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 20, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut, does it say anything in there about spending ridiculous amounts of money on defense? I don't think the founding fathers were as frightened as many today even though they were actually threatened. Are you a frightened little conservative as well who likes spending all his money on big guns instead of something productive.

Let's put more money in missile defense and useless wars and planes that crash. Why not stop the paranoia and

Don't be afraid of your Freedom!

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Yo, Kevin, what about the commercials touting the Gubbernator?

Look! Look at all he's done!

...Wait, he didn't do any of that.

Posted by: Crissa on March 20, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

"How come I don't see the two most important tasks of the Congress in the list... To redistribute wealth amongst the populace..."

Look harder.

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises"

And unless it's to collect taxes and shove them up the President's ass, there's going to be some degree of wealth redistribution.

Posted by: tron on March 20, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy Nut, does it say anything in there about spending ridiculous amounts of money on defense?
Well, it at least says something about spending money for defense. There isn't a thing about wealth redistribution.

But, you know, since the mid 1950s defense spending as percent of GDP has been tapering down nicely. linky Isn't is nice to get what you want, kj?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

nut,

If you want to take us back to 1776 then just come right out and say it.

In the meantime, as long as we are wishing - I wish for world peace, clean energy, and a personal ship that I can pilot wherever I want, including to another galaxy and back again, which I suppose means I'd need an FTL drive.

If all that is unreasonable then how about this: I wish that at least once during my lifetime the Vikings win the Superbowl!

Posted by: Tripp on March 20, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Is Kevin jealous that Andrew Sullivan has more readers?

Nah, but I'm certain Kevin has more T-Cells than Bareback Sully.

Posted by: Doubtin' Man on March 20, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK
How come I don't see the two most important tasks of the Congress in the list... To redistribute wealth amongst the populace and universal healthcare??

Because conspiracy nut conveniently left out the first enumerated power in Art. I, Sec. 8, the Taxing and Spending power.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I wish that at least once during my lifetime the Vikings win the Superbowl!
You know, I can sympathize. Back in the day of Fran I was a Vikings fan. Hella defense and a scrambling QB, the way the game should be. But after they laid down the 3rd time in the Superbowl, I give 'em up.

But I'm interested, what makes you think that would take us back to 1776? The States can do whatever they want. You know, Amendment 10, Bill of Rights

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

The original quesion was about Andrew Sullivan, so it's legitimate to argue that (1) he is worth reading, and (2) that on economic issues he is immoral.

Sullivan is obviously bright and verbal, well educated in history and government, and conservative (whatever this might mean) by temperament. Perhaps he has always been so gifted that he fails to see what a slog life can be for people who are not so gifted. That would explain his insensitivity to what we tritely call the safety net, but which is, in reality, the preservation of life and sanity for some people.

His work to abolish torture has been exemplary for the past couple of years; considering that he has been trying to work from a "conservative" position, it is all the more laudable. His criticism of the Bush cabinet and Bush himself has been chronic and consistent. He made no bones about supporting the Iraq invasion from the beginning, and seems to be holding on by his fingernails at the moment.

So we come to Atrios' comment about his economic incoherence. At this, Kevin and Atrios are essentially correct: Under any serious economic analysis, the Sullivan wishlist is impossible of attainment because it is so self-contradictory. The problem may be that Sullivan is caught up in the "supply-side" nonsense, where tax cuts are somehow supposed to equate to increased tax revenues. Let's consider:

If you go back and read Jude Wanniski's tome on the subject ("The Way the World Works"), you find that the prediction is for increased tax revenues even in the absence of economic growth. Let's say that again: The Laffer curve scenario is not based on economic growth per se, but on an analysis of how people behave under extremely high (ie: 90%) tax rates. It's curious that the latest round of supply side nonsense implicitly uses Keynesian arguments about the stimulatory effects of tax and money policy (wrongly, of course, but then it really is incoherent).

Sullivan is to be praised for leading the fight on torture. On economics, he is an amateur pretending to some expertise. Since he has made himself a career as a public intellectual, he should be more careful about spouting economic nonsense; in this sense, his failure (or refusal) to make himself an expert on that which he speaks of is fundamentally immoral. He leads people who trust him asstray. You can read an analysis in last week's American-Reporter.com column on the public intellectual.

Posted by: Bob G on March 20, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely
Sorry, did miss that one. But I'll remind you of this from Federalist 41

Some, who have not denied the necessity of the power of taxation, have grounded a very fierce attack against the Constitution, on the language in which it is defined. It has been urged and echoed, that the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.
Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases. A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms "to raise money for the general welfare."
So let's not be reading more into that than was intended.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Late to the thread, but . . .

Actually, since Sullivan wants to increase military spending, the cuts would have to be greater than 80%; perhaps greater than 100%.

Posted by: penalcolony on March 20, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why does anyone pay attention to Sullivan? His only claim to fame is helping destroy the TNR.

Yes - let's start with slashing the NIH, and see what happens to Sullivan's HIV-infected ass.
Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten

Are you parodying Charlie or channeling him? Really poor taste there, OBF.

Jay:

No, no. Not poor taste whatsoever. As an HIV positive gay man, I find Sully a fuckwad of the highest order and a lap dog of the Repugs.

I cant help but believe that if Sully were a Jew in Nazi Germany he would have been a clerk doing the paperwork for the machinery of death.

Posted by: Keith G on March 20, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

- To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

Department of the Treasury

- To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

Department of State, Department of State and International Assistance, and Department of the the Interior.

- To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;

Huh, they do that, but gosh, that's not a department.

- To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;

Department of the Treasury again, though some of these are split off to Department of Commerce (standards)

- To establish post offices and post roads;

This sounds supiciously like the the Department of Transportation.

- To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

Hmm. Limited time. What is the limited time right now? No limits? Odd. Well, we aren't paing for it.

We do promote science though the Department of Energy and NASA, which are studies which only Franklin was involved in at the time.

- To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

Hmm. Seems like they're slipping on funding this. But this is the Department of Justice.

- To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;

Hmm. That sounds like the International Court and the UN. I wonder how far in arears we are there...

- To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

Oddly, our president has been doing this himself.

- To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

Hmm. They seem to appropriate things for alot longer than two years. What's the current requirement for enlistment?

- To provide and maintain a navy;

No time limit there, though.

- To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

They don't seem to do that anymore, either.

- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Huh, the President took away our local reserves for his war. And I don't see governors being involed in officers anymore.

- To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--And

Dept of Homeland Defense here.

- To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

And all other powers? Hmm. That's alot of other powers not in this list! Commerce clause not withstanding, they're supposed to make this a better nation, remember? That's why we end up with Labor, Education, Health and Human services, Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

And really, Education isn't as big a chunk of the budget as it could be, and many of these 'other' get funding from outside the Feds.

Or didn't you know that grants aren't usually exclusive?

Ohwell. This list already included most of the discresionary spending...

Posted by: Crissa on March 20, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Crissa
It's true that a small subset of those Depts may be necessary. But I'm really interested, what does being the lawmaking body for Washington DC have to do with the Dept of Homeland Defense [sic]?

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Conspiracy Nut, you didn't answer my question. Are you one of those frightened conservatives hell-bent on spending as much on Defense as the rest of the world combined?

Unlike you apparently, I realize that our nation has progressed and become much richer and that we don't need to spend as great a ratio of our treasure on defense, especially considering there are no real threats to us in existance, save a band of nomadic suicidal cave-dwellers and our idiot administration who insists on putting our citizens in the middle of a civil war. Therefore spending more on defense than anything else, regardless of any past needs to spend a lot, is ridiculous. Surely you must agree or are you aware of some conspiracy by the rest of the world to band together and attack us.

Don't be afraid of your freedom!

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Re:Laffer Curve

To all the conservatives here. Get this straight. We are actually more than willing to discuss the particulars of this, as we will admit, there is a theoretical point where cutting taxes for the wealthy will grow the economy. We are not blind ideologues, nor unwilling to have a rational, civilized discussion on this.

We just happen to believe that for a few reasons, we're nowhere close to that point. For a personal example, my thinking is that PvE ratios are way too high, and are unsustainable.

If you have differing ideas, you're welcome to share them, rather than just saying "Laffer curve" and leave it at that.

Posted by: Karmakin on March 20, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Conspiracy Nut, you didn't answer my question.
Sure I did. Defense spending is in the Constitution. If you think 3-4% of our money is too much to spend on defense, hey, everybody gets an opinion. But that's all it is, an opinion.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

If you cut taxes, you have to cut defense. If you raise taxes, you can raise defense. It's a no-win strategy for the Right, as they never have believed in a small-government in our modern world, as instead they are the conservative, military, nationalist party, and want the biggest, baddest, military the world has ever seen. They really have no idea what it would mean to shrink the government along every other margin.

For opposition, it's easier. Erase the tax cuts. Roll them back. Keep some of them that target only lower and middle-income Americans, small business, and low-finance entrepreneurs. At all times, determine feasibility of trimming bloated defense budget, in terms of leanness and purpose, but weigh against political demogoguery by the Right. At this moment, I would entertain the idea of a "unified" security budget, for looking at defense and security budgets together, and within this I would attack inefficient crony weapons systems and other insecure spending, and I would propose massive increases in homeland security in terms of infrastructure upgrades, preparation, and security (ex. ports).

Posted by: Jimm on March 20, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a strawman list of federal budgets to eliminate, shifting $$$ to the States:
Education Department
DEA
Most of the ATF, at least the A and T parts
FCC

Posted by: kck on March 20, 2006 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Concerning the Laffer Curve, Karmakin is right. We are squarely on the left side of the peak of the curve. Taxes need to go much higher to obtain maximum revenue. That doesn't mean we should try to obtain maximum revenue, but that fact is pretty clear.

For proof see the CBO's latest analysis of the Laffer Curve: http://tinyurl.com/csryf

In that paper a 10% decrease in the marginal rates was assumed. The study concluded that between 1% and 32% of the revenue loss was offset by growth. The authors felt that it would likely be less than 15% offset by growth.

Join with me now. We are on the left side of the curve. It is baffling that someone would argue otherwise.

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter peanut, FXKLM: when "balancing" the budget, it's perfectly reasonable to violate federal law, use creative accounting practices, and commit fraud.

Using money from Social Security taxes to fund other areas of government is only illegal if congress chooses to make it illegal. The whole notion that congress cannot reduce entitlement spending or cannot move funds from Social Security into defense spending is absurd. What congress can do, congress can undo. There is a rather substantial difference between violating federal law and rewriting federal law.

I would also argue with your claim that what I'm proposing is creative accounting or fraudulent. I'm suggesting that we treat the federal government as a single coherent entity for accounting purposes. Using the Social Security system as an off-balance sheet entity that engages in straw transactions with the general treasury is certainly creative and arguably fraudulent. But that's the system we have now, not what I'm proposing.

Posted by: FXKLM on March 20, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

conspiracy nut: Defense spending is in the Constitution. If you think 3-4% of our money [GDP] is too much to spend on defense, hey, everybody gets an opinion. But that's all it is, an opinion.

Hmmm ... the Constitution also permits Social Security, Medicare, the NIH, NOAA, etc., etc., etc. If you think otherwise, hey, everybody gets an opinion. But, unless you're a Supreme Court justice, that's all it is, an opinion.

Come on, nut, troll shooting around here is getting too easy. Give us a challenge!

Posted by: alex on March 20, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Why do conservatives never seem to remember that "promote the general welfare" gets equal billing with "provide for the common defense" as the purposes of the government formed by our constitution?

Posted by: brewmn on March 20, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Why do conservatives never seem to remember that "promote the general welfare" gets equal billing with "provide for the common defense" as the purposes of the government formed by our constitution?
Well, raising and using armies and navies are enumerated powers; wealth redistribution isn't. As for your use of the general phrases, you were first laughed at in the Federalist papers.

No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction.
And 200 years later, they're still stooping.

that's all it is, an opinion
Obviously.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

According to numbers I've seen (this chart is typical), the tax cuts keep about $200 billion a year on average out of the government coffers. Subtract that from the $400 billion deficit. Now what?

At some point you have to do SOMETHING about spending, and no discussion of spending is realistic unless you discuss entitlements.

This site discusses what can be done about discretionary spending. Feel free to browse the database. Yes, the DoD is there, too.

Their recommendations would cut $232 billion from the 2006 budget. Of course, each and every one of those programs has a lot of people who think it's the most important possible use of government funds in human history, so good luck with that.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 20, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: According to numbers I've seen (this chart is typical), the tax cuts keep about $200 billion a year on average out of the government coffers. Subtract that from the $400 billion deficit. Now what?

A good cost savings measure is not starting unnecessary wars that have nothing to do with the defense of the United States. Between that and repealing the tax cuts we can balance the budget (and save lives).

Posted by: alex on March 20, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Oh boy, Conspiracy Nut wants to have fun with statistics. 3-4% on defense, eh? How about about $1700 per person per year on defense in the U.S. (that's $8500 for my family of five if anyone cares) while the rest of the world gets by on $83 per person per year.

Let's look at it visually. Each X being 25 billion on defense.

1. U.S. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
2. China XX
3. Russia XX
4. Japan XX
5. U.K. XX
6. The rest X (individually)

I'm not looking for parity, just sanity. Let's knock off a few of those X's and not start any more stupid wars while inching our way a bit closer to the peak of the Laffer curve and we'll have ourselves a solvent and more prosperous country. Yeah!

And remember, don't be afraid of your freedom!

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Just to stir the waters a bit more - I don't generally agree with Mr. Nut, but I think everybody on this site should be able to agree that there's a significant chunk of waste in Federal spending that follows from congressional log-rolling. I think he's just plain silly to think that one could promote the general welfare by cutting 80% of discretionary spending, but that doesn't mean he's wrong to want to cut out the obvious waste. Surely there's a middle ground between the twin delusions that government is always the problem or always the solution.

Posted by: dcbob on March 20, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Re: Laffer curve

Ceteris paribus, cutting taxes would succeed in increasing the tax base only if aggregate supply permanently increases (shifts outward).

There is no empirical evidence that this has actually happened or is about to happen.


Posted by: Devil's Advocate on March 20, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

So tbrosz, when talking about the On Budget deficit we aren't talking $400 B, we are talking about nearly $500 B. Once you remove the $232 Billion your Citizens Against Government site cites, we are left with about $250 B in deficit spending. Now, on a thread below you were insistent that a shortfall of $250 Billion/yr forty years from now was an immediate crisis.

How do you reconcile these two views?

  • $500 Billion right now? Good luck.
  • $250 Billion after you have passed on? Better get cracking.
Does the cognitive dissonance never bother you?

Posted by: heavy on March 20, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

heavy:

No dissonance. My solution in both cases is to rein in spending.

That's not possible?

So have Democrats push to raise taxes $500 billion a year, already. What are they waiting for? As with universal health care, just because they don't think it will pass doesn't mean they can't make it an issue.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 20, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

So what if the rest of the world gets by on $83 per person for defense? We're much richer than most of the rest of the world, so we can afford to spend much more on everything, including defense. And if we didn't spend as much as we did, our allies would undoubtedly spend more. Europe, in particular, has been getting a free ride from U.S. taxpayers on defense for far too long.

Posted by: jk on March 20, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, did miss that one. But I'll remind you of this from Federalist 41

And all just remind you that the Madisonian interpretation it suggests was not shared by other contemporaries even among the federalists (e.g., Hamilton), and was so unconvincing when it came to the basic rights that passage claims it would not authorize Congress to legislate against as to necessitate the explicit and separate protection of those rights in the Bill of Rights, which would have been unnecessary had that argument been generally convincing, and that, further, the case law of the Taxing and Spending clause from U.S. v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936) on holds that, while it does not authorize every possible legislation (the position your excerpt argues against), it does indeed act as an independent grant of power to tax, and to spend, for the general welfare, without reliance on other enumerated powers.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Thank jk,

You are making my argument. We cut defense and someone else picks up the slack. Good idea. Sure we can afford to spend more but isn't it conservative mantra that just because you can spend more doesn't mean you should. I'm making the case that the best place to start cutting spending is in the DOD which is the most inefficient and wasteful entity in the U.S. If conservatives are serious about cutting spending, they need to look there, otherwise it is impossible to take them seriously.

And that Tbrosz site has some good cuts. Cut the corporate sutsidies, save a bunch of money on a UHC plan, cut defense and raise taxes to Clinton levels and boom, we're in good shape.

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think you're making my argument for me. I'm glad you agree that Europe is getting a free ride on the back of the American taxpayer. I wonder what would happen to the already sclerotic European statist economies if they had to actually pull their own weight on defense instead of sucking on the teat of Uncle Sam, as they've been doing ever since we bailed their asses out 50 years ago.

Posted by: jk on March 20, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

the case law of the Taxing and Spending clause from U.S. v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936)
You know, for a limited government fan like myself that is revolting reading. First they find that the enumerated power of

To regulate commerce ... among the several states
is definitely not applicable. Then they rely on somebody's book to say the Federalist papers were wrong?

Hell, maybe I ought to write a book.

Could be worse, I guess, they could have been using foreign laws to countermand our Constitution as early as 1936.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

So JK, me and you are on the same page here. We cut our defense by a bunch and leave Europe to pick it up if they see fit. I like it.

Glad to see not all conservatives (I'm assuming) are hiding under their bed, sending checks to their congressman, telling them to buy more and bigger guns. Good for you!

Posted by: kj on March 20, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz you are, um...what's a polite word for lying? Your Citizens Against Government site can't even find enough waste to cover for the Republicans deficit. It still falls short even if you add back in the Bush tax postponements.

Since you don't want to cut wasteful military adventurism, and since you don't want to pay for the government you voted for, and since you want cuts for everyone but yourself (your tax cuts cost money too), the lack of dissonance reflects a lack of coherent thought.

Posted by: heavy on March 20, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

The war in Iraq is paid for by foreigners-the bullets, the fuel, as are all the other activities of the US government since George Bush came to power. The bill is being paid by the British, Japanese, South Koreans, Saudi Arabians and the communist Chinese. Middle class and poor Americans will, of course, have to pay this back with higher taxes and reduced benefits. Not a very good situation since the US has a negative, or near negative, personal savings rate and international competition and deindustrialization means more economic insecurity coupled with a peerless trade deficit. Which means it is unlikely Americans can produce out of the current situation because they don't produce very much that is competitive. So, assets both public and private will have to be sold- which, again, will benefit the wealthy.

The fiscal deficit is a direct result of Republicans policies, not just the war but, cutting taxes to the richest Americans in a three decades long struggle to undo the New Deal and return America back to an age when there was great income disparity and old age was synonymous with poverty. As Tom Delay told us Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.

Posted by: bellumregio on March 20, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

Then they rely on somebody's book to say the Federalist papers were wrong?

Reading isn't your strong point, clearly. They did not rely on Mr. Justice Story's Commentaries, though they referred to them as among the more recent sources espousing the view of Alexander Hamilton (you know, the guy who wrote most of the Federalist Papers), James Monroe, and others, who disagreed with the view of Madison (expressed in Federalist 41).

Hell, maybe I ought to write a book.

Anything that keeps you too busy to post here would be a welcome change.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Not having seen this book, I can easily dismiss it as revisionist history. Tell me, do you have any type of link to material supporting your argument (aside from this case which refers to things I haven't seen) that there was opposition at the time to Madison's statement? Is such information easily available at my Barnes and Nobles? Do I require access to a law library for this?

Because my quote from the Federalist seems mighty strongly worded to me.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Anything that keeps you too busy to post here would be a welcome change.
And come on, you guys love me, I know you do.

Posted by: conspiracy nut on March 20, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

jk> Europe is getting a free ride on the back of the American taxpayer.

Military $/gdp:
USA 3.3%
France 2.5%
UK 2.4%
Germany 1.5%
Canada 1.1%

Often not that big a diff. Cut out Iraq and such, and there's no substantive diff. France and the UK, I would argue, pull their own weight. The only reason they would want to jump to the US level would be for ill-advised foreign adventuring. Hey, so how's that going? Not so good, eh?

>I wonder what would happen to the already sclerotic European statist economies...

Their government deficits run around the same level, 3% give or take, as the USA's. Canada runs a surplus large enough to fit a tripling of our military expendatures, and will soon be increasing its defense budget, largely to be able to maintain extensive (for our size) UN peacekeeping duties. For the record, typically the public sector make up around 1/2 of GDP in europe, vs 35% in the USA. Not that big a diff.

But they tend not to have the crazy 6% level of the USA's current-account deficit. Most run trade surpluses or nearly so. Given the choice between a somewhat stuck economy, and a bubble economy based on chinese credit and ever-less productive activity - I'll take the door on the left, thanks.

One or two percent of GDP difference in military expenditures has no explanatory power for general economic performance. You'll need another excuse.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on March 20, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK
Not having seen this book, I can easily dismiss it as revisionist history. Tell me, do you have any type of link to material supporting your argument (aside from this case which refers to things I haven't seen) that there was opposition at the time to Madison's statement?

The case references specific works for the positions of Hamilton and Monroe, among other references, its not particularly a concern of mine if you can't read their references, and I have no reason to believe that you'd read mine any more than theirs.

In the federalist papers Hamilton discusses the taxation portion of the taxing and spending powers, and goes on for considerable length as to why it is, and needed to be, completely general (this argument starts from Federalist 30), the case already referenced notes that the spending power must be as general as the taxing power in the same clause, which both as a matter of theoretical construction and pragmatism seems pretty clear.

Is such information easily available at my Barnes and Nobles?

The titles are there in the footnotes, you could always call B&N and ask. Or use their in-store computers.

Do I require access to a law library for this?

I'd imagine that any decent university library would suffice, and that a law library wouldn't generally be any better.

Because my quote from the Federalist seems mighty strongly worded to me.

Yeah, Madison clearly had a strong opinion. He was hardly the only one with a strong opinion, and his opinion was hardly the only one around.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2006 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew has responded - here is the link.

Someone want to do the heavy crunching of numbers, and see if he is still talking hot air out of his rear?

(And yes, the visual of the above is supposed to make you cringe)

Posted by: JC on March 20, 2006 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

...see if he is still talking hot air out of his rear?

Sullivan's proposal is a laundry list of cutbacks designed to dismantle the New Deal. Nothing new there.

The air out of his rear is not just hot, but it stinks to high havens.

In any case if you do not have to implemet the cuts you can always find lots of things to cut.


Posted by: lib on March 20, 2006 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

Lib,

Yeah, there is no doubt that this wishlist is just that, in terms of the politics - a fantasy wishlist for tinkerbells, who if you just wish hard enough - you get a pony!

But I'm still interested in the number crunching, on top of that. (Maybe I shouldn't be though).

Posted by: JC on March 20, 2006 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

FXKLM: Using money from Social Security taxes to fund other areas of government is only illegal if congress chooses to make it illegal. The whole notion that congress cannot reduce entitlement spending or cannot move funds from Social Security into defense spending is absurd. What congress can do, congress can undo. There is a rather substantial difference between violating federal law and rewriting federal law.

You realize, don't you, that this would be a huge defacto tax increase on the working class as they are currently buying insurance with that money. You would simply take their money and put it into the general fund without replacing the insurance they are now buying. Why should the budget be balanced on the backs of the working class?

Posted by: exgop on March 20, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

His is a laundry list of ill-conceived ideas. A middle class tax increase (remove the mortgage deduction), off topic nonsense (increase the surplus in the Social Security budget), and increased unemployment. Pretty much what you would expect from someone who hasn't a clue.

Posted by: heavy on March 20, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Rock on! I am constantly amazed at the tap dancing going on by the cons on this budget, it's disguting, it's reckless, and it's the result of a 'have it all' mentality, that CAN'T last! 9 trillion in debt? Who is anyone kidding? It's a train reck, and, at the least, it's HIGHER TAXES in the future.

Posted by: johnnyr on March 20, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

I'm late to the party, but I don't get Kevin's math at all. I belive the latest Bush budget proposal calls for $2.8 trillion in spending. If one wants to eliminate a $400 billion deficit and not touch defense spending (and even increase it) that still leaves over $2 trillion worth of budget one could cut. Presumably interest on the debt is off limits, but that would still leave something like $1.8 trillion worth of budget out of which we'd need to make $400 billion worth of cuts. So, a 22% cut in the budget outside of defense and interest on the debt would leave us with a balanced budget.

Obviously this isn't politically feasible, but it's certainly not infeasible in a technical sense. What am I missing? Oh, yeah, I'm missing the fact that sacrosanct transfer programs are known as "non-discretionary" Well, that's an artificial construct. A more accurate way to describe such programs would be "too popular to mess with."

Sullivan's perhaps not being too realistic, but he's certainly not being incoherent.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida on March 20, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

You realize, don't you, that this would be a huge defacto tax increase on the working class as they are currently buying insurance with that money. You would simply take their money and put it into the general fund without replacing the insurance they are now buying. Why should the budget be balanced on the backs of the working class?

The insurance aspect of Social Security would not be affected if Social Security spending is reduced through means testing. Payments to the poor wouldn't be reduced. A means tested system would be far more effective in insuring against old age poverty. It would make the system substantially more progressive than it is now.

Posted by: FXKLM on March 20, 2006 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

P.B. Almeida - money is an artificial construct. If we agree that artificial constructs can be ignored, the government should simply ignore (confiscate) the artificial construct (money) of everyone with a net worth over $1 M. What say you? Sure, it's not practical. But there's no technical reason it can't be done. And it is no less sound an idea than robbing all of the people who have paid into Social Security.

Posted by: heavy on March 20, 2006 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Not a big fan of ideological tax posts, not only because I simply disagree with them. Its that so many otherwise intelligent voters apparently are so easily bluffed on this topic.

PB's mini-screed on "entitlements" nicely encapsulates the uniformed view on this topic. Now, please feel free to argue against the general concept of insurance, but SS and Medicare are simply insurance programs, run by an entity, the U.S. government, which is more well insulated from risks than any private insurance company.

If you want to debate tax policy, and spending policy, you have to take each component chunk.

Right now, the Bush administration has demonstrated that it pretty much is in favor of all of the component chunks. Its just not in favor of bothering to pay for them.

Posted by: hank on March 20, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

FXKLM: The insurance aspect of Social Security would not be affected if Social Security spending is reduced through means testing. Payments to the poor wouldn't be reduced. A means tested system would be far more effective in insuring against old age poverty. It would make the system substantially more progressive than it is now.

As long as you remove the cap on withholding and make it apply to all income rather than just payroll taxes, then we can talk. If not, then you are simply proposing to balance the budget on the backs of the working class that would pass your means test without offering them anything in return for your changing the terms of the deal. The result: more taxes and less benefits making the age-old republican prediction of not getting your money back from ss come true.

Posted by: exgop on March 20, 2006 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that a small subset of those Depts may be necessary. But I'm really interested, what does being the lawmaking body for Washington DC have to do with the Dept of Homeland Defense [sic]?

and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;

Ahh, 'Department of Homeland Security' Thank you for not correcting my spelling. Or don't you think that we have needful buildings of arsenals, dockyards, and forts in this modern age?

Heck, if you don't, well, just let the 'terrorists' waltz right on in, I'm sure they'll be happy to oblidge you in an open war.

Posted by: Crissa on March 20, 2006 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0 made a fantastic observation in a post at 1:27. If you haven't read the whole thread, go back upthread and find it. It is worth reading.

"But the real failure here is the failure of the ideology itself. Conservatives wanted to take our country through a major experiment in governing policy. They succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings."

"What failed, wretchedly and despicably, was the experiment itself."

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 20, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sully also proposes raising the retirement age to 72. This looks like a real winning idea to run on. That and no more mortgage deduction.

Posted by: Dalea on March 20, 2006 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

Considering Mr. Andrew Sullivan is HIV-positive, yet he has posted anonymous ads on the Internet seeking bareback (i.e. condomless) partners , his judgment seems, um, highly questionable. In any case, Kevin, your talking points are all good ones. I would add a couple more. First, as some posters have already noted, the GAAP-basis U.S. budget deficit is much, much higher than the $400 billion figure you cite, due to both the offsetting effects of the Social Security and Medicare surpluses and the off balance sheet accounting this incredibly dishonest administration has been using to conceal the costs of the illegal occupation of Iraq.

The other thing is that much more money is spent on the military than is explicitly called out in the federal budget as being defense-related (as ludicrous as that appellation is). As the War Resisters group has pointed out for years, there are appropriations in the Dept. of Energy and Health and Human Services budgets that are caused by or end up in the Pentagons pocket. Things like nuclear weapons testing programs and veterans benefits programs have to be added back for a true accounting of what our monstrous war machinery costs us. When you do that, we are probably more in the range of $500-600 billion. In addition, much of the CIAs appropriation, which supports our imperialist military, is in the so-called black budget that few people in government have ever seen, but has been estimated to range upwards of $30 billion or more. As Gore Vidal has pointed out, this is clearly unConstitutional and in violation of Article I, Section 9 which requires a periodic and complete accounting of all tax dollars spent.

You also failed to mention that Bushs ill-advised tax cuts included cuts in the estate tax, which favors only the very, very wealthy. This tax also goes to pay for discretionary spending. So, conservatives want to cut taxes on the very wealthy to eliminate government programs that benefit the very poor. What outstanding Christians they are! In my view, if conservatives really believed in free markets and the capitalistic, entrepreneurial myth they always trumpet, they would want the estate tax set at 100%. After all, these rugged individualists, like Rush Dimbulb, would have no trouble competing with kids from the ghetto or barrio head-to-head, with no help from Mummy and Daddy, right? They are just so inherently superior in every way, that wouldnt be an issue, would it? Truth is, most of the Fortune 400 wealthiest Americans inherited their wealth without doing a damn thing to earn it. Look at Paris Hilton. Some rugged individualism there

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on March 20, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum's budgetary ignorance is astounding. He doesn't really have the first clue what comprises the federal budget and how it's funded. He opens his mouth in a smug and triumphalist manner, and then proves himself ignorant.

Bush's tax cuts haven't touched Social Security or Medicare taxes (and both programs run surpluses anyway).

FALSE. The Medicare payroll tax does not come even close to paying for all of Medicare. Most of Medicare is subsidized by general revenues (like income taxes), and that subsidy will be to the tune of TRILLIONS once the prescription drug plan kicks in. Social Security is currently running a surplus, but that will change in 2018 and SS will also be running a deficit.

They've been solely cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes. These are the taxes that fund discretionary spending.

MOSTLY FALSE. While these taxes pay for discretionary spending, they also pay for entitlement spending that FAR EXCEEDS total discretionary spending. These entitlements include Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, TANF, food stamps, energy subsidies, and hundreds of billions in other stuff.

Discretionary spending in 2005 was roughly $1 trillion. About half of that was for defense and national security, which Sullivan doesn't want to cut. That leaves $500 billion, which funds the entire rest of the federal government.

FALSE. Again, Drum is ignoring Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, TANF, food stamps, energy subsidies, and hundreds of billions in other stuff. Taking out Social Security, defense, non-defense discretionary, and net interest still leaves well over $1.2 trillion in entitlement spending that Drum claims doesn't exist.

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

These are round numbers, but you get the idea. Cutting a few agricultural subsidies and eliminating Amtrak isn't going to do the trick. Even taking an axe to social welfare programs wouldn't do it. You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government outside the Defense Department.

FALSE. He's not even close, for the reasons cited above, but that won't prevent him from continuing to enjoy hearing himself speak nonsense.

Posted by: The Peloponnesian on March 20, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

I like Sullivan's answer: Raise taxes.

No really, that's his answer.

He's got this pat list of non-items - most which aren't in the discresionary budget - which don't amount to the number he wants. Then he discretely forgets that the rest of the taxes are supposed to be balanced to the non-discrsionary budget.

Basically, robbing peter to pay paul. Good deal.

Not.

Posted by: Crissa on March 20, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

The Peloponnesian, then surely you could back up your assertions with data. You know, links, hard numbers, that kind of thing.

It's easy to make claims of ignorance about others, but if you just make unsubstantiated claims no one here will take you seriously (well, outside of the clown brigade).

Posted by: on March 21, 2006 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Peloponnesian is a highly misinformed individual. Please tell us where you've gotten so misinformed just in case we want to make a study of ignorance in its purest state.

"The Medicare payroll tax does not come even close to paying for all of Medicare." hehe. Beautiful and blissful ignorance. http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TRSUM/trsummary.html. The trustees disagree with you.

Because your first premise was wildly incorrect, the following three are incorrect as well. And what's with your expansive use of that meaningless word "entitlements"? Beyond Medicare and SS which are funded seperately, your other "entitlements" fall under discretionary spending as they are given at the discretion of congress from the general revenue.

Seriously, where do you get your information? What crazy blogger has unduly influenced you with misinformation?

Posted by: kj on March 21, 2006 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK


I've always thought that Andrew Sullivan came to his political positions not so much through reasoned analysis, but rather from his dislike of liberals. For some reason, liberals are just a bunch of sleazy, immoral, questionable types--so that even if a liberal makes a good argument, his motivations are inevitably base. Thus, the liberals who criticized the call for war against Iraq, in his mind, were driven not by a sensible analysis of history and politics and diplomacy, but by a senseless Bush hatred.

If he at all immersed himself in the reality that is the U.S. budget, he would realize that the safety net is incredibly frail for many people who (through little fault of their own) are physically or mentally ill. Cutting medicare and medicaid, for example, consigns some of these people to early deaths. I'm sure if Sullivan were confronted with the actual consequences of health care budget cuts, he would conclude that he is actually a liberal on domestic spending. But for him, as for many conservatives, the poor, sick, disabled, and elderly people who are kept alive by government spending are mere abstractions.

Posted by: Arthur on March 21, 2006 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, I think Bush's biggest failure (and why he ticks off so many liberals and conservatives) is that his giant big ticket items are not only expensive, but tremendously ineffective. His Medicare drug benefit costs hundreds of billions of dollars, but does little to actually help the elderly save money on medicine.

And when it comes to increasing spending, Bush dramatically threw money away on utterly goofy priorities--such as his proposals for resending men to the moon and launching a manned mission to Mars--a scheme that will be tragically expensive and from which the world will derive very little scientific or material benefit.

And given all the pressing threats and dangers this nation faces--global warming, terrorism, oil shortages--Bush thought that we should spend a lot more money on agricultural subsidies? Couldn't this money have been better spent elsewhere?

Posted by: Arthur on March 21, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

Sullivan is just grandstanding. Somewhere in his head is a romantic notion of being a hard-headed libertarian rationalist, but the guy is really just posturing to keep himself important and interesting to enough people to keep his schtick up.

Posted by: Jimm on March 21, 2006 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not ready to suggest that 80% could be taken out of non-defense spending. But what percentage of US govt "discretionary" spending COULD we axe if we really wanted 3-E government (efficient, effective, essential)?

The number is between 0% and 80%, and I suspect it's closer to 40 than it is to either 0 or 80. So, I'd say it is somewhere in the range of 25% to 55%. I would elect people who said it was their mission to achieve 5% reductions each year for several years, if they could do it without significant harm or danger to the public, and I think that could be done for a number of years -- a virtual "slam dunk".

Gore/Clinton had the right idea in terms of using a variant of "zero-based budgeting". That starts from "you have to justify ALL the money" in terms of requirements and intended/potential results, not just building a case for "how much more" you could find a use for this year. Once in place, it becomes harder and harder for the wasteful agencies and programs to stay perpetually under the radar, even if they get a pass in the early going via some creative rationale. But that whole government efficiency initiative seemed to just "fade away" in the years of Clinton/Gore. How come? I recall Gore saying something to the effect that it was going to be one of his primary focus areas.

Defense spending? That monster simply needs to be run more like a business. I.e., "We are in business to defend the US from attacks and to reduce clear and present threats to national security. In that process we are accountable to manage and employ the required assets and the financial and people resources as if they belonged to our own family --- which they do, all of our families."

Bigger government is not better government. I think smaller is usually better and bigger is usually worse, and largely counterproductive to the best interests of the citizenry. But a zero-based approach to federal government budgeting, with responsible citizen oversight, would tell us more clearly "how much is too much".

Sadly, now in my 60's I believe the past few decades have taken us "beyond the point of no return" in terms of government fiscal irresponsibility. Now, only a catastrophe and resulting cleansing of the stable in Washington (as in, throw ALL the bums out) will get us back to sanity, and even then it is not likely doable.

Posted by: Terry Ott on March 21, 2006 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK
Stupid question, but how much of this deficit is offset by the surplus created by the Medicare and Social Security taxes?

Posted by: theorajones on March 20, 2006 at 12:58 PM


The deficit looks much worse if they can't borrow from the Social Security Surplus to cover the General fund.

This is some that the "old Al Gore" (the one Kevin liked) used to address when he talked about the idea of a Social Security lockbox.

Another poster has pointed out that what Congress is doing (raiding the pension fund) would get a normal company in some trouble, but part of the fun of being Congress is saying that some things are crimes when done by others, but are legal when done by Congress.

I think the idea of a Social Security lockbox has merit, but I think you'd need a Constitutional Amendment to make it stick, and even then, some genius might find ways around it (the way the 4th, 6th and 10th amendments have been "reinterpeted.")

Posted by: Nemo Ignotus on March 21, 2006 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Sullivan doesn't spell it out, but maybe he's thinking of paying for an increased presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (and more troops) by cutting budget-busting procurement projects: Fred Kaplan suggested some.

The problem is that it takes time to train more troops.

If the Bush administration had, right after 9/11, cancelled a wasteful project like, say, the Joint Strike Fighter, and increased the size of the Army and Marine Corps by, say, 50,000, they would have saved money and we'd be in a better position in Iraq.

This would be political suicide normally (a lot of those big-ticket projects are thinly disguised welfare programs: Mississippi would be a lot poorer if the Navy wasn't building ships we don't really need there, for instance. Again, a Fred Kaplan article is worth reading), but it would have been doable in the initial months after 9/11, especially if Bush had pushed it.

On another subject, why is it pertinent to discuss Sullivan's sex life? Surely his arguments stand up (or fail) on their own merits?

If not, can we bring in Barney Frank's sex life when talking about policies he advocates? Or can we talk about Barbara Jordan's sex life when we discuss policies she advocated?

I really, really recommend that those who decided to make Andrew Sullivan's sex life a topic of this discussion take a look at lists of logical fallacies: Argumentum ad hominem, in particular.

I'll note that Kevin Drum's criticism was on the illogic, incoherence, inconsistency and vagueness of the policy proposals Sullivan made.

Posted by: Nemo Ignotus on March 21, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

MOSTLY FALSE. While these taxes pay for discretionary spending, they also pay for entitlement spending that FAR EXCEEDS total discretionary spending. These entitlements include Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, TANF, food stamps, energy subsidies, and hundreds of billions in other stuff.

Excellent points, The Peloponnesian.

Where liberals go off track when discussing fiscal policy is their insistence of giving special status to their pet programs, and so they love to talk about the various different classes of federal spending, and the different, sacrosanct funding mechanisms in place to fund this or that bit of social insurance.

The reality is that there's only ONE funding mechanism. It is called the economy.

The reality is that there's only one destination for the funds taken from that economy. It's called federal spending.

Posted by: Benedict on March 21, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

kj, several comments above, criticizes me and claims that I am wrong. I assure you I'm 100% right. I don't get my info from bloggers or websites. My job is to help write the budget. I assure you I know more about the federal budget than any blogger alive.

kj, you obviously don't have a basic understanding of the budget yourself. Medicare is not paid for by payroll taxes. Not even half of it is. Only Medicare Part A is, and that's what your link is talking about. But Parts B, C, and D are paid for out of general revenues.

Also, you have absolutely no idea what the difference is between discretionary spending and entitlements. Discretionary does NOT mean funded out of general revenues. That has nothing to do with it. Discretionary means that Congress has to vote to spend the money every year, or else nothing gets spent. Entitlement means that there's a formula, and based on that formula spending increases every year even if Congress doesn't act. Medicare and Medicaid are entitlements, even though (with the exception of Medicare Part A) they are funded out of general revenues. TANF, farm subsidies, and food stamps are entitlements, even though they are funded out of general revenues. Highways are discretionary, even though they are funded directly by the gas tax.

kj, educate yourself and then come talk to me.

Posted by: The Peloponnesian on March 21, 2006 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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