Political Animal


March 21, 2012 9:30 AM Driven To Extremes

By Ed Kilgore

My first post on Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday, which relied on Ezra Klein’s analysis of its contents, suggested that Ryan and the GOP had decided to go in the political path of least resistance, concentrating very heavy spending cuts on the younger and poorer voters that largely won’t support them anyway, and giving older and whiter voters a break, if only by holding this particular generation of seniors harmless in Social Security and Medicare.

This morning Ezra reaches the same conclusion, but without having to attribute any partisan intent to the GOP:

I don’t think Paul Ryan intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. Similarly, I don’t think Mitt Romney intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. But there’s a reason their budgets turned out so similar: The Republican Party has settled on four overlapping fiscal commitments that leave them with few other choices.
The Republican plans we’ve seen share a few basic premises. First, taxes are too high, and must be cut. Second, defense spending is too low, and should be raised. Third, major changes to entitlement programs should be passed now, but they shouldn’t affect the current generation of retirees. That would all be fine, except for the fourth premise, which is that short-term deficits are a serious threat to the country and they need to be swiftly cut.
The first three budget premises means that taxes and defense will contribute more to the deficit, and Medicare and Social Security aren’t available for quick savings. That leaves programs for the poor as the only major programs available to bear cuts. But now cuts to those programs have to pay for the deficit reduction, the increased defense spending, and the tax cuts. That means the cuts to those programs have to be really, really, really deep. The authors have no other choice.

This is all quite true. And in the end, it probably doesn’t matter if Ryan and Romney and other Republicans are driven to extremes on the budget by cynical partisan political calculations or by the remorseless math dictated by their ideological principles. It’s one of the great ironies of contemporary politics that the Republican Party has become the old white people’s party precisely at the time when conservatives most have the motive and perhaps the opportunity to pursue its age-old dream of reversing the New Deal and Great Society by crippling Social Security and Medicare. When they decide to leave Social Security alone for the moment and give current Medicare beneficiaries a pass, is it because they are cynically protecting their own voting base, or because it’s just not fair to ambush seniors with immediate changes when the big budget savings from “entitlement reform” are generated in the out-years anyway?

I can’t peer into their hearts and answer this question, and Ezra’s probably wise to adopt the explanation that least relies on invidious GOP motives. It may also just depend: some Republicans consider programs helping the poor inherently evil and would support their elimination even if the federal budget were running a vast surplus, but I don’t think that’s true of every single one of them. And like a lot of people in all walks of life, a lot of these pols don’t really think much at all beyond whatever they are told to do and whatever it takes to get to the end of the day.

In any event, I think we can all agree that when political self-interest and ideology and budgetary math all point Republican policymakers in exactly the same direction, that’s where they are going. Too bad for poor people: they literally don’t have a vote on the matter.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on March 21, 2012 9:49 AM:

    Do Ryan and Romney understand that the likely result of their plan is the kind of civil unrest that hasn't been seen in this country since the Civil War?

    Even the Romans understood that you can't safely cut the social safety net without violent political consequences. "Let them eat cake" doesn't work very well.

  • walt on March 21, 2012 9:56 AM:

    Welcome to America 2.0: the gated community.

    The social compact is essential to any sense of nationhood we might have. When society's "haves" decide to opt out of it, what remains is a dystopian nightmare in which the less fortunates have short, brutish lives. Perhaps it's impolitic to note what Republican policies will necessarily lead to, but I don't really care when dealing with these sociopaths. They want the poor to die.

  • wihntr on March 21, 2012 9:59 AM:

    I think one of the hugest ironies about this proposal coming from Ryan is that the man has never held an actual private-sector job in his life. He went straight from college (which was paid for in large part by government aid!) to a job working for politicians, to elected office. Any paycheck this guy has ever received in his entire life has come from a politician (who in turn is paid by taxpayers) or from the very gummint he sees as being so evil.

  • ericfree on March 21, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Speaking as a rapidly olding white person, Ryan and his whole teabagging clique can go to hell. It's pretty obvious the policies they're forced to adopt, not that it gives them any pain, help them only with those who already support them. So they do what old, rich people of a certain mentality do best: cling fiercely to what they've got. You may have noticed, there are a lot of graybeards among the Occupiers too.

  • stormskies on March 21, 2012 10:09 AM:

    And right after presenting this nightmare of a policy that essentially leaves the poor to fend for themselves, to troll the dumpsters for whatever they can find, Ryan et-al went to Church and crossed themselves ......

  • Hedda Peraz on March 21, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Speaking of Romans, Ron Byers, it is high time the government cut 'entitlement' and 'welfare' spending!
    The military needs to become productive members of society. When the Roman Legions came home, they brought strange beasts, slaves, and tribute.
    Where is the gold, where is the oil, Mister Panetta?

  • boatboy_srq on March 21, 2012 10:15 AM:

    The G(n)O(B)P seems committed to making all the worst implications of Thatcher's "there is no society" quote true. Between callous budget proposals like this one and fiascos like the Trayvon Martin shooting, one has to wonder whether the gated community wasn't designed to inhibit the anticipated sieges launched by all the have-nots.

    We're fast approaching a point where not even tribalism is a sufficiently minute grouping concept to describe the GOP worldview: when (like Zimmerman) you don't even know your neighbors in the same gated community, the granularity is getting too small to maintain.

    Captcha: the rphysis. So that's what it's called.

  • T2 on March 21, 2012 10:27 AM:

    "Too bad for poor people: they literally donít have a vote on the matter." That is exactly what the Picture ID/voter Fraud (itself a fraud) GOP laws are intended to ensure.

  • ckelly on March 21, 2012 10:32 AM:

    Ezraís probably wise to adopt the explanation that least relies on invidious GOP motives.

    I tend to lean toward Occam's razor...the GOP ALWAYS has invidious motives.

    Too bad for poor people: they literally donít have a vote on the matter

    They literally do have a vote (at least until voter ID passes). If the electorate would stop voting against their own best interests they might expel these GOP cretins and avoid all this.

  • Diane Rodriguez on March 21, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Good post Walt.
    I'm not inclined toward moderation in assigning any semblance of benign motives to the GOP. It is entirely driven by the ideology of self interest. These positions are not legitimate conservative positions, they are extremist. The Ryan budget is a clear attempt to widen the gap between the haves and have nots. There is no national interest in that. The attempt at curtailing civil and privacy rights as well as collective bargaining is a calculated position. Granted many of the prominent figures on the right are clownish and ignorant, but their masters, such as the Koch brothers are not. A poor and uneducated underclass with no rights is easy to control and exploit. The "centrist" position is no longer viable in this political climate. Not completely cynical, I am hopeful that the changing demographic ( old guys dying off, diversity increasing) will defeat this extremism. The line of "reasonable" behavior was crossed long ago. Racism, misogyny, and repression are not legitimate policy positions.

  • June on March 21, 2012 10:43 AM:

    How much damage do Republican pols have to do before they lose the benefit of the doubt that they're operating in good faith? Or to put it another way, what has Paul Ryan ever done that indicates he deserves the benefit of the doubt when contemplating whether or not he is a breathtakingly cruel and mendacious politician?

  • SecularAnimist on March 21, 2012 11:02 AM:

    Ryan and Romney simply want to keep doing what Republicans have been very successfully doing for a generation, namely:

    Concentrating as much wealth and power as possible in the hands of a tiny minority of increasingly hereditary, kleptocratic, ultra-rich corporate oligarchs.

    They want an America in which a tiny, hereditary ultra-rich ruling class rules over a population of impoverished, powerless serfs.

    And they make no secret of it.

  • Rich on March 21, 2012 11:04 AM:

    I reiterate my critique of yesterday...Ezra is an idiot. he's obviously spent too much time too close to the Beltway media to miss the obvious. It's all about shafting the poor 9and the middle class) as well as making life better for the rich.

  • AngryOldVet on March 21, 2012 11:15 AM:

    I held my tongue on an earlier blog by Kilgore which conveyed the same underlying tenet as this one! No mas...

    Kilgore conveys a subtle DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lite message that Social Security and Medicare are major sources of existing deficit problems and that seniors must pay to cure them!!!

    I am going to start drawing Social Security in another 3-6 months, so I do have a stake in this discussion. I receive and will continue to receive my health care thru the V.A., so I do not have a personal stake in the Medicare discussion but will participate anyhow.

    Social Security has overcollected from workers to the tune of $2.5 TRILLION since St. Ronnie and Mr. Andrea Mitchell saved Social Security forever in 1980 Does Kilgore want to join the repukes who want to say that $2.5 Trillion should be disregarded! Social Security would be solvent forever or thereabouts if there was no cap on the earned income that it is paid on! If the formula of collecting SS taxes on the bottom 90% of earned income had not been changed, then SS taxes would now be collected on earned income up to about $190K and SS would be 'solvent' for at least another 80 years.

    The PROBLEM facing Medicare is, more than anything else, rising health care costs. Does Kilgore want to join Ryan and the repukes and the other DLC/DINO/Repuke-Lites in raising eligibility ages or replacing it with Coupon-Care?

    Does Kilgore want to join the repukes in adding age warfare to their historic agendas of race warfare and hidden class warfare?

    A BIG F...U to Kilgore if he believes that seniors are the source and solution to the problems of this country! If not, then stop implying so.

  • TCinLA on March 21, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Further proof that what has to be done is a smash-down of the Republicans on the order of 1964. Not just kick them between their legs, but smash their face into a wall, and when they're down, kick them repeatedly. The American right wing needs the kind of smashing the German right wing got in 1945, and that the South should have gotten (but didn't) in 1865.

    Hey, a man can dream, can't he?

  • JS on March 21, 2012 11:35 AM:

    And in the end, it probably doesnít matter if Ryan and Romney and other Republicans are driven to extremes on the budget by cynical partisan political calculations or by the remorseless math dictated by their ideological principles.

    Why can't Republicans be driven by cynical political ideological principles, which lead to their extreme remorseless math?

    I don't think those positions are mutually exclusive at all.

  • SYSPROG on March 21, 2012 11:36 AM:

    I love you TCinLA.

    CAPTCA=raogni entertained

  • schtick on March 21, 2012 12:28 PM:

    The anti-abortion and anti birth control bills the tealiban are trying setting up in the states are ensuring they have the "bodies" they need for their next war/wars. They don't plan on those "bodies" coming home alive so we really don't need social security and medicare. The poor "bodies" that remain on home soil should die for not enlisting thus showing support in their wars anyway. Problem solved!

  • Jimo on March 21, 2012 12:53 PM:

    Said before:

    You cannot politically protect 55+ entitlements if you eliminate those same entitlements for 55-. It's a recipe for intergenerational warfare (and the elderly know it).

    Those under 55 years CANNOT both:
    A. Continue to pay taxes for the elderly, while also
    B. Massively increase savings for their own retirement.

    Middle aged adults would need to be saving something like 33% of their (already stagnant) incomes. (Among other things, consumer spending would dry up entirely!)

    End result: Younger citizens flock to the polls, and vote in candidates who promise to find "savings" in entitlements for the elderly. That's trillions of dollars in savings.

    The choice is either the wealthy pay more taxes or someone starts eating discount catfood.

  • LG on March 21, 2012 1:36 PM:

    "Ezraís probably wise to adopt the explanation that least relies on invidious GOP motives." Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Haha. Ha.

  • iyoumeweus on March 21, 2012 2:15 PM:

    This is just the old divide and conquer policy, take from the young and the poor in the hope the old middle retired class will not notice then eliminate social security, medicare and every other social program which aids and supports them. Being seventy-four, I am not fooled and must be on my guard to inform and wise up those who are. Keep occupying everywhere and make sure your etch-a-sketch is in working order.

  • Doug on March 21, 2012 8:40 PM:

    AOV, try actually reading the article BEFORE you post.
    Nowhere does Mr. Kilgore write that he agrees with the Republican positions on SS/Medicare. Nowhere in the article does Mr. Kilgore even suggest that "entitlements" need to be "reformed". I DID see several examples of Mr. Klein and Mr. Kilgore attempting to try and look at Ryan's budget proposal (snicker) from a Republican perspective in an attempt to discern why BOTH Ryan's and Romney's proposals are so similarly targetting poor people. Reporting what Republicans believe is NOT the same as advocating those beliefs.
    In fact, that whole "DLC/DINO/Repuke-lite"(sic) message that set you off was so subtle, I couldn't even find it...

  • Texas Aggie on March 22, 2012 1:15 AM:

    On the subject of whether or not Ryan's hatchet job on the poor was intended or not, I saw yesterday that he said during an press conference or interview that the poor need a stiffening of their moral fiber. He said that being taken care of by the government was making them slothful and destroying their moral fiber. His comments sure make it seem like he is doing this to them on purpose.