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America's Favorable Head-Winds

Blogging on Peter Schramm from the pages of NLT is somewhat akin to voicing an opinion on Lee Iacoca from the floor of a Chrysler plant in the mid-80's. Nevertheless, the man with his fingerprint on our masthead opined this week in the Columbus Dispatch, and his words deserve contemplation.

Ever the contrarian, bating onlookers to defy his logic, Schramm celebrates the messy congressional convulsions most Americans have recently condemned. Bipartisanship is overrated:

The truth is that our Constitution builds in division.... Divisions are built into the Constitution so that the natural divisions that arise in a free regime might become, over time, less willful and more rational. 

If the Framers had wanted a democracy, they wouldn't have formed a constitutional republic of separated powers, limited government and onerous checks on the will of the majority. (Steven Hayward makes a similar point on the implausibility and undesirability of compromise between 1789-minded conservatives and 1960's-minded liberals here.) 

Schramm is a macro political scientist. eschewing the "details" and "logistics" of the debt-ceiling debate, he notes John Boehner's monumental achievement in shifting national attention to "fundamental constitutional questions."

Boehner and his Republican troops have disproved an assumption held by progressives and liberals since the New Deal: that government will always grow in size and scope, that all spending increases are permanent.

Schramm regards the shift in Washington rhetoric "away from the favors government might bestow and to its proper role" as the "most radical change in my lifetime." It's difficult to notice the turning of the Earth at any given moment - though in any 12 hour period, it's as obvious as night and day - but one hopes Schramm's prediction proves astute, and the Boehner compromise heralds a new dawn for self-government.


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Discussions - 9 Comments

"It's difficult to notice the turning of the Earth at any given moment"

Not if you're looking up at the heavens.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, you have all accomplished bloody nothing.

Mr. Deco, you are a confused soul.

I have neither a confused mind nor a confused soul.

The Republican caucus accomplished diddly/squat in the recent round of brinksmanship over the budget, in part because of their insistence that their be no increase in taxes of any kind. Given that federal revenue collections as a share of domestic product have not been so low since the Eisenhower Administration, this is stupid.

Meanwhile, a political architecture notable for preventing anyone from making or taking responsibility for a decision is continually extolled as a most flawless artifact.

But somehow I'm the confused person.

AD, you don't shrink government by raising taxes, period. And of course this was about far more that solving our debt problems - Schramm is right, it's about shifting the debate to the Constitutional purposes and limits of government. High time too.

Also, you need to realize that the GOP base has become more determined. Had Boehner and Co. caved on tax increases, it would have dispirited half the conservative base in the country. He did the right thing by standing his ground. Maybe he didn't accomplish squat, but he certainly did better than diddly.

Whatever your objects are, Redwald, arithmetic is fairly unyielding. If you wish to implement a 40% cut in federal spending, you need to specify:

1. Which 40%; and

2. How you sell it to an electorate who have ambivalent opinions about a large mass of issues;

3. How you implement it without triggering a social crisis.

One of your confederates had a long list of agencies some component of the Republican caucus was willing to dissolve. That is all well and good. The thing is, there are scores if not hundreds of agencies with small budgets in the federal government, the residuum of a hobby horse of members of Congress who retired long ago. You can fry the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Science Foundation, and dozens of others. Do it. It makes only a modest difference, however. Other people fancy we spend vast amounts on foreign aid (the civilian component of that consumes all of 0.75% of the federal budget) or on enforcing drug laws (actually about 1.1% of the federal budget) or on maintaining 'the empire' (about 30% of the U.S. military is posted abroad; the whole military consumes about 21% of the federal budget, so the empire eats up about 6%).

The propensity and necessity to spend on the military is subject to factors you just do not control. Ditto the veterans' hospitals. You cannot welsh on your debt service, even if people in the Republican caucus or on the editorial staff of National Review have persuaded themselves you can. Social Security and medical insurance are incorporated into people's long range planning and mundane reality. If you want to diddle with that, you have to do it gradually and with care. Announcing an immediate 40% reduction in Social Security payments to satisfy a diffuse constituency which has an abstract object of 'shrinking government' -- yeah, sounds like a plan.

And again, most of the deficit is attributable to revenue contraction, B.O.'s profligacy notwithstanding.

The TEA partiers need to come back to earth. As is, I cannot see how this ends well.

most of the deficit is attributable to revenue contraction, B.O.'s profligacy notwithstanding.

It looks to be about equal parts declining revenues and increasing spending. Spending as a percentage of GDP has averaged around 20% since 1950, and it was at just under 24% in 2010. Receipts as a percentage of GDP have averaged just below 18% since 1950, and were just under 15% in 2010.

So, yes, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the deficit can be realistically addressed without some increase in taxes. But taxes should be a bargaining chip, to be raised only in return not for pie-in-the-sky promises of future spending cuts, or mere reductions in the rate of growth, but actual cuts.

Where I would cut would probably amaze you. I'd start with Medicare, which is the single biggest reason medical costs have skyrocketed over the last 40 years. I would do it slowly of course, and not too publicly, by changing the reimbursement formulas for doctors and hospitals (and yes, of course, they would initially resist this with refusal to see patients, or trying to bill them). Nonetheless, it has to be done. I would also cut the military, particularly the large procurement processes -- we've long paid far too much for jets, aircraft carriers, tanks, and such. And there are many proposals to reform/replace Social Security, and I would begin to phase some of those in.

None of this will be ease, but saying "I cannot see how this will end well" is a recipe for stasis and decay. I think you need to come up into the clouds with us, AD.

Mr. Deco,

Your view that the Constitution is merely a piece of positive law is confused. You have subsequently shown yourself to be whistling in the dark on any given number of Constitutional issues.

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