Belmont Club

After the Ball is Over

Charles Krauthammer says a political tsunami will hit Washington in November. He is probably right. But what happens after the wave sweeps over the landscape. That is where certain knowledge ends, because every draft of politicians — even those, perhaps especially those — who have sworn to reduce the capital eventually show a singular reluctance to diminish its power and by extension, themselves.

One function the Republican “pledge” fulfills is to bind the party, insofar as politicians can be bound, to an agenda they cannot easily extricate themselves from. Jonah Golberg  summarizes some of its points. “First and foremost it promises to focus on job creation, vowing to stop all scheduled tax hikes (i.e., the expiration of the Bush tax cuts). It offers a steep tax deduction for small businesses and a renewed commitment to curbing business-stifling regulations.” But he may be wrong to call it the “the opening bid”. It is more like a guaranteed minimum.

One reason the Republicans may keep their world is they will have no choice. Straitened circumstances may make reluctant saints of former spendthrifts.  The ambitions of the incoming officials will be curbed by a lack of money. But tax cuts combined with a promise to reduce deficits translates to a reduction in government spending, and with it a reduction in public employment. The Washington Post believes it can’t be done. It argues that with government expenditures given, any reduction in taxes will mean a rise in the public debt.

The House Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” unveiled with fanfare Thursday at a Sterling hardware store, mixes irresponsible tax cuts with implausible spending caps and unspecified actions to control entitlement spending. The resulting concoction is a profile in cowardice. …

The Republican plan promises dramatic spending cuts. It would roll back non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels and cap future growth. But it shirks the politically sensitive task of explaining where the savings would come from. It tosses out a few, relatively small-dollar ideas — “cutting Congress’ budget” and “imposing a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees,” saving $35 billion over 10 years — and then resorts to the old waste, fraud and abuse dodge. Minority Leader John Boehner crowed that the rollback would save $100 billion in the first year alone. Yes, but from where?

From government, that’s where. If the oncoming tsunami signifies anything it signifies destruction. It signals the demolition of agencies, the reduction in bureaucraitic payrolls, the renegotiation of compensation packages and the wholesale bonfire of millions of miles of red tape. The idea is that this will release energies which in turn will turn dead rubble into dynamic new structures. The idea is that people who lose sinecures in the public sector will find productive jobs in the private.

The danger lies in the lag that exists between these two events even in theory. If a reduction in handouts is not matched by an increase in meaningful employment in perceptible time then the political pendulum could begin to swing the other way. But that’s the nature of the political beast. You place your bets and you take your chances. The President wagered his political life on a government led recovery and struck out. Now the other side is at bat. And we will see what we will see. One thing working in the pledge’s favor is that it does not rely on the skill of government to rebuild the economy. Rather it relies on millions of individual strategies which have been set free by the absence of government. It should work, but ‘should’ is never the same as ‘will’.