Democratic Budgetary Passivity

For several weeks now, we have all been besieged by Republican ranting and raving about the budget, how it must slashed and chopped to ribbons even if it means a government shutdown or default on the national debt. The minimum down payment, they keep saying, is a cut of $100 billion in the current fiscal year’s budget, which began last October 1. Every budget expert knows this is stupid because 40 percent of the fiscal year is already over. If Republicans were half-serious, they would have let FY2011 go by and directed all their attention to FY2012. By wasting a vast amount of Congress’s precious time on FY2011, it is going to be very hard to pass a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions that might actually have a meaningful effect on reducing future spending. Instead, Republicans would prefer to pander to ignorant Tea Party dopes and grandstand for the Fox News cameras.

But bashing Republicans isn’t really the point I want to make. What I would like to know is why Democrats take it so passively? It isn’t as if they lack the resources to respond to idiotic Republican pronouncements. The last time I checked, they still controlled the White House and the Senate. These are very powerful resources that have oddly not been brought to bear in the budget fight.

Having been staff director for a congressional committee, here’s what I would be doing if I were organizing opposition to the Republican budgetary disinformation campaign. First of all, I would be holding hearings five days a week in the Senate Appropriations Committee and every other Senate committee on the impact of proposed Republican budget cuts. Whose benefits are going to be cut? What programs will be shut down? What are the real world consequences of the Republicans’ plans?

I have no idea and I have made an effort to try and find out. But there are undoubtedly people who know at the Office of Management and Budget and the various departments of government that are filled with assistant secretaries eager to testify before a congressional committee and respond in detail to the implicit Republican argument that spending can be massively cut without hurting anyone.

Another thing I would be doing is commissioning reports by the Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office to provide data and analysis on the impact of Republican plans. And believe me, any request from the chairman of the appropriations committee gets the very careful attention of those who run these organizations for obvious reasons.

The next obvious step is to get all of the various organizations that represent farmers, defense contractors, health providers and so on to do their own analyses based on their intimate knowledge of how spending cuts will affect them. These people will also be more than happy to testify before a congressional committee on short notice.

Within a couple of weeks I think it would be very easy to put flesh on the bones of the Republican plans and mobilize the millions of people who will be affected but probably have no idea at this time that this is the case because no one has told them. I think the political dynamics could change quickly. But someone needs to get the ball rolling, get the analyses started, organize the hearings and so on. Why this isn’t already being done, is a complete mystery to me.

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About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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