Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 4, 2011

A SUCKER'S BET.... The effort to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year will be the principal challenge for policymakers over the next few days, but while that work continues, congressional Republicans will also start a massive fight over the next budget.

We'll have more on this later -- sneak preview: the GOP wants to gut entitlements -- but as the process gets underway, it's worth pausing to appreciate the politics here. The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes has a lengthy new report, arguing that Republicans are prepared to "gamble on entitlement reform," and the GOP thinks it can win this time.

If there is one thing that political strategists, pollsters, and elected officials of both parties have agreed on for decades, it's that entitlement reform is a sure political loser. Social Security is the "third rail" -- touch it and you die. Suggest changes to Medicaid and you don't care about the poor. Propose modest reforms to Medicare and you're the target of a well-funded "Mediscare" campaign that ensures your defeat.

No longer.

"People are getting it that these things are unsustainable," says Karl Rove. "For so many people, debt is no longer abstract. It's more concrete. I don't know if it's seeing Greece on TV or what. It's still tough, but it's not the political loser it used to be."

Other influential Republicans go further. They believe that getting serious about entitlement reform can be politically advantageous.

"I think it can be a real winner for Republicans if we handle it the right way," says South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

The piece goes on to quote all kinds of Republicans, all of whom genuinely seem to believe there's a public appetite for their entitlement agenda. GOP officials have been too scared to tackle this in earnest before, the theory goes, but bolstered by public support, this time will be different. This time, they say, Americans want entitlement cuts, and Democratic criticisms will fall on deaf ears.

Time will tell, I suppose, but all of the available evidence suggests these folks have no idea what they're talking about, and are poised to pursue one of the most dramatic examples of political overreach we've seen in a very long time.

Republicans can presumably read polls as easily as I can, but let's focus for a moment on the latest CNN poll, released late last week. Asked, for example, about Medicaid funding, a combined 75% want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Social Security, 87% of Americans want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Medicare, 87% want funding levels to stay the same or go up -- and most want funding to increase, not stay the same.

For some reason, Hayes and his allies look at numbers like these and think Republicans will benefit from pushing entitlement cuts. No, seriously, that's what they think. GOP leaders are not only arguing this, they're actually counting on it as part of a larger political strategy.

Karl Rove, ostensibly the GOP's most gifted strategist, believes Americans may be "seeing Greece on TV," and suddenly find themselves favoring Medicare cuts.

I don't think he's kidding.

Hayes noted in his piece, "So have things really changed? We'll soon find out."

On this point, we agree.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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These are the same jokers that went around talking about how Democrats want to cut your Medicare!!!111!!! OMG! Now they think to run on "we want to cut your Medicare." I hope Democrats stick "death panels" down their throats.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope on April 4, 2011 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

After hearing what Maher had to say about how the GOP convinces people to come to their side on the issues, I'm afraid they will try their best to do so. They've got a whole network to themselves and the others are run and presented by people who get practically giddy when they hear politicians like Christie wanting to snatch away these "undeserving" entitlements.

It will be interesting to watch. Actually I'm not going to stand by and do nothing. Time for me to start writing some letters to the editor.

Posted by: Alli on April 4, 2011 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

What Americans want are sustainable government programs. That means well run government programs that are adequately funded. That probably means they want to see taxes on the rich go up a couple of points and fraud and abuse agressively attacked. They also want to see programs that are no longer serving a real mission eliminated. The Defense Department is filled with weapons systems that are fighing a war threat that no longer exists.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 4, 2011 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

They're probably counting on Democratic politicians not to defend the programs. And on that, given that most of the Dems (notably including the Obama WH) have sold out to the banksters, they may be right.

I have been thinking for a while, though, along the same lines as Ron Byers -- will all this "cut government" fever finally spread to the military? Everybody knows what a cesspool of waste the Pentagon is. That would be a reform I could get behind!

Posted by: bleh on April 4, 2011 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is that they run a deceptive campaign based on big bucks from billionaires, claim a mandate, and hope that they can destabilize housing for enough people that they won't update their voter registration.

Shorter version: disenfranchise the poor, trick the middle class, discourage the rest into thinking votes don't matter, implement electronic voting machines with no paper records, filibuster any attempts at repeal.

Posted by: RepubAnon on April 4, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are counting on (1) Democratic timidity, 2) Right-wing salesmanship, and (3) Public ignorance.

So: Hell, yeah, I'd bet on Republicans winning.

Posted by: K in VA on April 4, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the American public fears Greece as much as Karl Rove thinks the American public fears Greece. Maybe it's because the Greek situation was caused by a bunch of idiots doing what right wingers would suggest we do, but maybe it's also because if you mention Greece to most Americans, the images such a mention brings up are of drunk frat boys wearing bedsheets and chasing women.

Posted by: jon on April 4, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

"For Social Security, 87% of Americans want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Medicare, 87% want funding levels to stay the same or go up -- and most want funding to increase, not stay the same.

Good post Steve. These poll numbers will not change that much even after the usual corporate BS disinformation campaign. When enough voters understand the real reason their wages have stagnated for over ten years is health insurance premiums and explosive out-of-pocket costs we may have a real discussion about health care (the discussion that never happened during that blizzard of GOP Senate filibusters). In a national Presidential campaign there is no filibuster option to prevent a policy debate about health care costs. My sense is the GOP is completely delusional regarding this issue. There are 70 million baby boomers closing in on retirement with some potential to finally get out from under hyper-inflationary health care costs via Medicare or Medicaid. They aren't going to let an extremist kook like Paul Ryan turn Medicare into a useless voucher system and practically eliminate Medicaid. The Berlin Wall has been down for over 20 years and the real pork is in the DOD.

Posted by: max on April 4, 2011 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

"Republicans have no idea what they are talking about."

This applies to entitlements, economics, science, education, and now even foreign policy.
This disconnect comes from living in a bubble where you only watch FOX, listen to talk radio, read the Wall St Journal, and only allow people who agree with you no matter how ridiculous your ideas to come within speaking distance. In their "reality" these ideas are very popular. In the rest of the world they are insane.

Posted by: atlliberal on April 4, 2011 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

They must think the American people are really, really stupid.

And you knonw what?

They may be right.'

Just look at the results of the '10 election.

We'd better right this ship in '12, 'cause we won't have many more chances if these clowns continue to control the House - and God forbid, the Senate the Presidency, too.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 4, 2011 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

The Sucker's Bet is relying on the American Public to actually have a clue about the issues, which is why Obama is right to start campaigning in earnest sooner rather than later.

We all have to do our part to educate our fellow voters about the issues and separate fact from fiction. Remember, 75% or more of the population doesn't even have a clue about The Affordable Care Act or even that it is still the law of the land.

Posted by: Kiweagle on April 4, 2011 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

"So have things really changed? We'll soon find out."

Things have changed. There are no longer any journalists in the mass media who feel an obligation to inform their viewers.

Republicans have discovered that they can loudly proclaim that 'up' is 'down' and 'black' is 'white' and no one (not even the Democrats) will call them on it. The Republican message is loud and unified while the Democratic message is weak and contradictory, so the gullible voters decide that the Republican side must be right -- especially since they really like the idea that everyone can have a pony without paying for it.

Posted by: SteveT on April 4, 2011 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are confusing Talking Points with Wishful Thinking.

Posted by: DAY on April 4, 2011 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

This is all about media control and the Citizens United decision. Republicans think that money will create enough disinformation to convince enough people that "it won't affect me and it's the responsible thing to do." Dems need to focus on educating the public with facts and abandon their strategy of relying on emotional voiceovers and sad-sack musical ads. They also need to convince people that this is not about the unions; it is about workers in general and simple fiscal fairness.

Posted by: Danp on April 4, 2011 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, with all due respect, I'm surprised you take the blandishments of the likes of Mr, Rove at face value. GOPers use polls not to determine what popular opinion is, but to make their agenda more palatable to those not paying close attention (MSM especially), regardless of public opinion. The top operatives literally do no care what people think as long as they can pass their radical policies, they can loose an election or two (falling back on wingnut sinecures in the meantime), then come back later to do some more. I challenge you to come up with a single conservative plank which has changed dramatically over the last century or so. The only thing that changes is the party's chances of getting the policy passed, not their concern for popular opinion one way or the other. In fact, the more unpopular—hence, likely destructive—a policy is, the better the medium term opportunity to capitalize on voter discontent to regain power and the ability to continue implementing their agenda.

Posted by: jhm on April 4, 2011 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

SteveT, no, it's not so much about up, down, black, or white as it's about "freedom is slavery" and "ignorance is strength."

Posted by: jTh on April 4, 2011 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Sure the polls reject the entitlement reductions the Reps propose, and sure they do read the polls. But they don't give a sh*t what the citizens want. They've been told what to do by their Corporate bosses and that's what they are gonna do. If it turns out that the citizens find out they are screwed, they better go to the polls and vote the bums out.

Posted by: T2 on April 4, 2011 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

If the pattern holds, most Democratic politicians will be the first ones to accept the Republican arguments as serious and correct, and will go ahead and support the damage so as not to seem too liberal. Then the Republicans will do an about-face and attack them for it during the campaign. Works every tiem.

Posted by: Taylor Boyd on April 4, 2011 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

When you get into the details it becomes very difficult to cut any of the big three programs signficantly. Take Medicaid, the low hanging fruit of entitlements. Seventy five percent of all medicaid dollars go to nursing homes to take care of our parents and grandparents. Most of those parents and grandparents lived their lives as good hardworking members of the middle class. Their kids are middle class. You think the kids will want to bring Grandma into their homes, or see Grandma on the street. There is no easy political solution for using medicaid to pay for nursing home care. Medicare is how we pay for medical care for people over 65 and others who are disabled. Do the Republicans propose to institute death panels? You cut medicare by doing something the insurance companies have never done, you increase efficiency in the delivery of medical care. Things like cloud based electronic health records come to mind. While nearly every hospital or doctors office you visit has computers, and pretty slick computer software, you would be shocked to learn that most records aren't portable. If you change Doctors paper records still follow you around. It isn't just medical records. Unless a diagnostic tool leads to a financial reward for the doctor, the medical community is unwilling to even consider its adoption. Smart systems diagnostic tools are sitting on the shelf, unsold because they mostly promise better outcomes for the patient, but not better bottom lines for the medical community.

There are lots of ways cut medicare and medicaid spending, but the Republicans haven't focused on any of them because they will separate their funders from their money.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 4, 2011 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

These Republicans believe that cutting entitlements is popular because they get all of their information from the Conservative Media. I'm sure that Fox and Rasmussen are telling them that cutting entitlements is popular. If you confront a right winger with a poll from CNN, they just dismiss as yet more lies from the "liberal media."

Posted by: Dennis on April 4, 2011 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Persistence has proved useful in moving the political conversation well past any meaningful corresponding public point of view . Matched by opponents maintaining an almost magically counterproductive negotiating posture , differing from humiliation only by the perception of degrees . One might strain heroically and not find an instance historically , anecdotally , or in a fantasied speculation of a more productive procedural strategy than the cigarettes are not addictive , Global Warming is a hoax , and the hysterical and unrelenting campaign of disrespect permitted against Obama . This volte faced denial , a sort of clean wipe out of historical memory , including formerly held shibboleths of foreign policy discipline holding that support for criticism of the commander in chief was technically work for our enemies , has no equal from either one of the two political parties .
Once again the prospect of one , or of the other incomprehensible influences , is a cold comfort to a proud American , or a rational one . On the one hand the clearly preferable Democratic agenda seems to be run by such a disgraceful , willfully weakened positioning of the social issues versus woefully inaccurate generations of plutocrat propaganda . An uncontrolled emotional reaction of outraged rejection , against a more useful position than the incomprehensible surrender of our meek "Representatives" to the roaring liars , who fail at meeting any corresponding public support can be understood . Throwing out the baby with the bathwater at least has a clarity notably absent from either ignoring the public , or blind support for plutocrat wishes at the snap of a finger .

Posted by: FRP on April 4, 2011 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, you know the GOP really doesn't want to cut "entitlements", only the kind they don't like. As we've seen, they have little interest in cutting subsidies, tax loopholes, and effective entitlements like the lower rate for capital gains. We need to hit them hard on that hypocrisy, not just complain that our preferred entitlements should be protected.

Posted by: Neil B on April 4, 2011 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

"If the pattern holds, most Democratic politicians will be the first ones to accept the Republican arguments as serious and correct, and will go ahead and support the damage so as not to seem too liberal. Then the Republicans will do an about-face and attack them for it during the campaign. Works every time." - Taylor Boyd

Only too true, I'm afraid.

The fact that most Dems have bought into the deficit mantra lock, stock and barrel is prima facie evidence of their terror at being perceived as "liberal."

From what I've read in response to Ryan's plan, there are minor references to tax increases and defense/corporate cuts, but nothing that would lead me to believe that Dems are going to center their strategy around those obvious truths.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 4, 2011 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Penny-wise and pound-foolish: What the hell does the GOP think is going to happen to all these people that will be screwed by these cuts to Medicaid? Simple problems will become chronic and/ or life-threatening, which will require a trip to the emergency room that leaves hospitals footing the bill.

When all is said and done, people will suffer horribly and it will cost taxpayers 10 times more to take care of them than if Medicaid had just been left alone.

If ever there was proof the GOP has no claim on the representation of Christians or anyone with a heart, this is it in spades.

Posted by: Kiweagle on April 4, 2011 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

The GOP should be fired but alas, they have the power of teh stupid hypnotizing teh stupid class.

This is why we can't have nice things.
Stupid voters, tax cuts for free!

Posted by: Trollop on April 4, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

The only problem is, just as they say you cannot beat somebody with nobody, you also can’t beat the other side’s ridiculous argument with no argument.

WHO from the White House or the Congressional Dems will stand up and point out that Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security have not created our massive federal deficits and debt, but that massive tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate have instead ?

Sure, decades from now, healthcare for the entire nation will be a driver of the deficits, but that is the PRIVATE-SECTOR that Medicare & Medicaid must purchase medical care from.

RIGHT NOW, it is tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate, THREE unfunded wars, and massive Corporate Welfare.


Posted by: Joe Friday on April 4, 2011 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Can't believe I'm the first, but the Dems need this in a macro. I know he was a RINO, but . . .

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Posted by: Steve P on April 4, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

What has changed is that we have a gutless coward for a President who will never stand up for the American people and against the Repukes and their plutocrat masters. Obama will find away to compromise away the safety net and millions of Americans will suffer and die for it.

Posted by: Citizen Alan on April 4, 2011 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

People will accept a risk to avoid a certain loss. Since Nixon, the GOP has been able to successfully manipulate Fear of the Other (non-whites, non-Christians) into support for the GOP agenda for tax cuts on the wealthy (aka, whites) and cutting spending on non-whites.

But now the GOP is going for broke. By framing government spending and entitlements as spending on The Other, and magnifying the threat of certain economic collapse ("we can't afford it!) they hope that white Americans will accept slashing entitlements as a gamble worth taking to save the economy and to prevent takeover by non-whites.

I don't think it is going to work this time. I am confident that white Americans will notice that the GOP's plan will result in the certain loss of entitlement spending on white Americans, too. In this circumstance, they will be willing to accept the gamble of more spending on non-whites (ie, raising taxes, government spending) to avoid the certain loss of their safety net.

But we can anticipate that the GOP will be pulling out all stops to incite white resentment of non-whites. The only way they can achieve their dream of dismantling Social Security and government health care is to keep whites more fearful of The Other than fearful of losing their safety net.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 4, 2011 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

RIGHT NOW, it is tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate, THREE unfunded wars, and massive Corporate Welfare.


Certainly not the Democrats, who during their two years in control of the government did absolutely nothing to modifiy any of these revenue drains.

Posted by: Juanita de Talmas on April 4, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

From today's Wonkbook (Ezra Klein):

The top 1 percent of earners control American politics, writes Joseph Stiglitz: “The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift--through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price--it should not come as cause for wonder...Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.”

Yeah, I think it might pass.

Posted by: KarenJG on April 4, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

As soon as I see "I think" and "Jim DeMint" in the same sentence - provided it is not a simple declarative such as "I think Jim DeMint is an idiot", but is rather an actual statement by Jim DeMint regarding what he actually thinks, I stop listening. Because what comes next is bound to be crazy.

Posted by: Mark on April 4, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK
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