Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2011

WHEN THE PARTIES TALK PAST EACH OTHER.... On CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, we heard from the top two lawmakers on the House Budget Committee: Republican Chairman Paul Ryan and Democratic Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen. (Yes, it was a pleasant surprise to see a Democrat was invited onto a Sunday show.) The important part of their discussion was appreciating the competing priorities on display.

Ryan conceded that there's no way the Senate will approve the House budget cuts. "My guess is we'll probably have some short-term extensions while we negotiate these things -- with spending cuts," he said, explaining how a GOP-led government shutdown can be avoided.

Remember, there were basically three options here: (1) strike a deal for the rest of the fiscal year; (2) pass a temporary extension while negotiations continue; or (3) shutdown. Ryan, like the rest of the Republican leadership, now wants (4) policymakers can approve a temporary spending measure while negotiations continue, but only if it includes vague-but-deep cuts. The priority, as Ryan sees it, has to be slashing spending, laying off public-sector workers, and reducing the deficit.

And then viewers heard a different perspective.

Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen argued on Sunday that 800,000 Americans could lose their jobs if the GOP's budget proposal was enacted, and warned against making "reckless" cuts to the federal budget.

In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," Van Hollen said that "everybody agrees we need to get the deficit under control," but argued that drastic cuts in 2011 would damage an already fragile economy.

"The bipartisan commission on fiscal responsibility specifically warned against deep, immediate cuts in the year 2011. Why? Because it would hurt a fragile economy and put people out of work," he told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "In fact, there are estimates that about 800,000 Americans would lose their jobs if you do this in a reckless manner."

Van Hollen criticized House Speaker John Boehner for what he described as a "callous" attitude toward the prospect of American job loss in the face of budget cuts, and argued that Republicans were taking the "wrong approach" toward mending the economy.

Van Hollen is right on the merits, and it was delightful hearing the argument actually being aired on a Sunday show where these observations are generally verboten, but the more important point here is that the Maryland Democrat was presenting a different goal: his priority is protecting the fragile economic recovery. Ryan's goal is reducing the deficit Republicans helped create.

They were, in other words, largely talking past one another. This would be a challenge if the parties shared the same priorities, but disagreed on how to get from here to there, but it's much worse when they're not even reading from the same map.

Just a reminder: the House and Senate are in recess this week, and the funding for the government runs out on March 4 -- a week from Friday. When lawmakers return to Washington, they'll have literally five days to find some kind of agreement.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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I don't want my elected officials to represent anything but corporations, big greedy kinds, you know like the kind that makes and sells tear-gas and makes those cool robot drones that zap r*gheads into the afterlife.

Listen to those who brag about the rapture. They should not be in power.

The GOP is like a religious cult. Dumb but dangerous.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 21, 2011 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP isn't even reading a map.

The GOP's problem is that they don't have any broad agreement within their own party. They need to get the left to agree to some cuts for the temp spending bill to save face and rally the troops.

Clinton was successful because although he did jawbone the issue (As only he can do) he forced the GOP to produce the specifics, then hammered them with those specifics.

Being in charge means you gotta pony up a plan that works.

Posted by: bignose on February 21, 2011 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

This would be a challenge if the parties shared the same priorities, but disagreed on how to get from here to there, but it's much worse when they're not even reading from the same map.

The problem is that the Republican's map is of a world that only exists in their heads -- a world where Obama is an illegal alien who was born in Kenya, who nationalized the healthcare system, who doubled the deficit and who raised everybody's taxes.

I was seriously disappointed by the lack of passion that my Congressman showed on Sunday. Van Hollen sounded like he was debating an abstract intellectual exercise instead of arguing to preserve the American middle class and American democracy.

Where was the passion? Where the angry rhetoric?

Why don't Democrats talk about the "Republican Recession", saying "Yes, some Democrats were dumb enough to vote for the policies that led to the Recession. But they were reckless Republican policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and gutting regulations on corporations."

When Paul Ryan declared that Republicans were going to have to lead, Van Hollen should have fired back, "The last time the Republicans lead, they drove the economy off a cliff -- and we're still trying to recover from the damage."

Unless the Democrats hang the blame for the continuing effects of the Republican Recession around the necks of the Republicans they will find that the public, in its ignorance, will hang the blame around their necks.

Posted by: SteveT on February 21, 2011 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

The further they take this country down, the better they think their prospects are for 2012 & 2016.
Republicans would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 21, 2011 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Unless there's something going on here that I don't know about, the comments by "barry" didn't deserve to be taken down.

Posted by: SteveT on February 21, 2011 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

[You seem to be under the impression that Washington Monthly owes you some sort of platform, and we do not. We have repeatedly removed your comments and banned your IPs because we moderate our comments section and you don't contribute to the dialog. When classes resume tomorrow, ask your poli sci prof to explain to you the difference between censorship (when the government silences you) and moderation (when you are told by a private entity to find a different venue to state your POV). As we have told you before, we get paid to be here. How about you? --Mods]

Posted by: barry on February 21, 2011 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

The part of this process that contradicts my previous understanding is that these individuals are from the Budget Committee, not Appropriations. It was my impression that while budgeters decided on expenditure totals and general areas of priority, appropriators wrote the bills which actually spent the money, and that these two bills were usually nowhere close to each other.

What role, if any will appropriators have in this process, and if it is not insignificant, what are they saying?

Posted by: jhm on February 21, 2011 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Why thank you Barry for your erudite commentary . All of us here certainly appreciate your commentary.

Posted by: John R on February 21, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Trolls already? What is it, a national holiday or something?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on February 21, 2011 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Seemingly, in two weeks,

Whale Oil, Beef Hook! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 21, 2011 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

I'd feel a lot better about our Republican politicians if their sole motivation wasn't destroying their competition at any cost.

What's really depressing is the fact that were Dems and the GOP playing chess, the Republicans would be moving the Knight diagonally and the Bishops would be leap-frogging the other pieces on the board. When called on it by the Liberals, they'd scream bloody murder and claim they aren't being treated fairly.

Once the GOP has successfully won by cheating, President Obama would then give a speech saying that we need to look forward, not backward... *sigh*

I still can't believe no-one's been busted for the Iraq War - even after Curveball publicly confessed to the Guardian newspaper.

Posted by: Kiweagle on February 21, 2011 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

One clarifying point, Steve. Ryan's goal is NOT to reduce the deficit. His goal is to reduce spending. He doesn't care about the deficit or debt. If he did, he'd put eliminating the Bush tax cuts and the Obama tax cuts at the top of his agenda. His goal is to cut spending he doesn't like, and if the deficit is increased, that's OK because that would justify another round of spending cuts aimed at PBS, WIC, and eventually Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Posted by: PhillyCooke on February 21, 2011 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

All you really need to remember about Paul Ryan is that he wants to turn Medicare into a useless voucher system and privatize Social Security.

Posted by: max on February 21, 2011 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

"the House and Senate are in recess this week"

That means they'll be returning to their districts. That means they'll be hosting public meetings, holding office hours.


Call up your local Representative and, if possible, Senators. Have prepared a little fact sheet expressing your major concerns. Make it easily readable. DO NOT EXCEED ONE (1) PAGE, one side. Include your name and contact information.

Hand it to your rep at the end of the meeting, so they'll have some tangible summary of your concerns to take away.

Come on - we can do this thing.

Posted by: zandru on February 21, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK


When meeting with your Congress folks or their staff, be polite. Act civilized. You can be passionate, but don't yell, curse, or make threatening gestures. Listen to their responses, but don't let them filibuster you - you probably won't get all that much time to talk, and don't want them to waste it for you.

If you have a personal story to tell, do so. This makes your concerns seem more "real" than wonkish recitations of statistics and lists. Sad but true.

Above all, take advantage of this opportunity. Face to face meetings are the best for influencing your representatives. Letters are next best, phone calls maybe third, e-mails probably don't work at all anymore, and griping on obscure message boards is nothing more than an ego exercise. (Trust me on this one.)

Posted by: zandru on February 21, 2011 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

The republicans' goal is not balance the budget--their goal is to destroy government. At least to destroy the part of the government that serves the needs of the poor and middle class. Considering the size of the deficit/debt the proposed cuts would not come close to producing a balanced budget in a thousand years--the interest on the current debt alone exceeds all the proposed cuts. There is only one way to bring the budget to balance and that is to RAISE TAXES, especially on those who can easily afford to contribute more. Without significant tax increases the debt will continue to grow which will give the republicans cover when they go after Social Security (currently not contributing to the debt/deficit), Medicare and Medicaid (which they want to put in the greedy hands of their corporate sponsors), education, and infrastructure. The republicans will not be happy until the U S becomes a militaristic plutocracy ruled by old money and corporations. At that point we will simply be a third world nation with a glorious history and a very dangerous military. We have no future unless they are stopped!!

Posted by: sparky on February 21, 2011 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK


I'd say we already have very efficient plutocratic old money militarisctawholistically effort to dismantle our democratic government so help me god.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 21, 2011 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

from the post: "Ryan's goal is reducing the deficit Republicans helped create."

NO, Steve: Ryan's goal is not reducing the deficit his party created (in whole, not part). His goal is a) derailing jobs concern and promoting phony concern about the deficit; b) aiding and abetting further enrichment of the obscenely rich; and c) increasing dire fiscal woes by pushing measures that will starve the economy and cost it hundreds of billions over the next decade if even one central issue, health reform repeal, sneaks into law. In short, class war fare that seriously endangers our country when we are, lest any of us forget, at war on two fronts and grappling too with unconventional but all to real terrorist threats. It is interesting that one of the items the Republicans want to cut is containing and cutting back the threat of nuclear materials getting into terrorists' hands. But I digress.

You gently, in other posts, mock the MSM for buying into the Republican/Conservative/TeaB memes, but you do it yourself here. There is nothing honest or sincere about Ryan's proposals or even his so called "expertise" in budget-making; he appears -- like so many of his Republican colleagues -- not to like America very much, an issue you yourself asked about, again very gently and in general, a few days ago.

It's fine to be nice and assume the best of people before you know otherwise. But we do know otherwise about present day Republicans (the Reagan lip-sync crowd). You continually give them credit for being decent, honest public servants. And they aren't, not if you define a "public" that includes the middle class and the poor and blacks and hispanics and women and children (I see today that the Republicans are moving forward with deregulating toy manufacturers and have already, some of them in state houses, begun attacking child labor laws).

Posted by: SF on February 21, 2011 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

@SF - Take a chill pill, it's all very well for us commenters to fire broadsides without fear of reprisal, but it's a little different when you don't have proof of your allegations and your publication's reputation is at stake.

Posted by: Kiweagle on February 21, 2011 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK
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