Justify the Moderates’ Cuts

Update: it seems Democrats, uncharacteristically, might not be reverting to form. We’ll see…

Greg Sargent makes a critical point about the upcoming budget debates (boldface mine):

So let’s lay down a marker: If moderates are going to push for a dramatic downscaling, they should not be allowed to get away with doing so arbitrarily. They should be willing to declare exactly what they think should not be funded, defend it and say specifically what would be wrong with spending more

This disagreement is not unexpected. It is a natural outgrowth of the committee’s effort to fix on an amount of spending that can win all 50 Senate Democrats — and pass with no Republican support — moderates and progressives included…

Obviously it’s unlikely that Sanders will get the $6 trillion in spending he wants. But if moderates do insist on bringing down the levels to their preferred degree, they cannot be permitted to do so arbitrarily, on the grounds that big expenditures just seem bad, so Democrats mustn’t do them.

We’ve been down this road before. As journalist Jonathan Cohn recounts in his monumental history of the Affordable Care Act, when Democrats were negotiating the bill in 2010, Senate and House moderates placed limits on spending levels they would countenance that seemed largely arbitrary.

Similarly, they also placed largely arbitrary limits on how much in tax increases on the wealthy they’d tolerate to pay for that spending.

“Conservative and moderate Democrats were desperate to hold down the 10-year budget figure, because they thought a big number would sound like ‘too much government’ and spook their voters,” Cohn told me…

You can draw a straight line from those decisions to some of the ACA’s biggest political problems,” Cohn told me. “The lower subsidies left many middle-class people paying more for their coverage, contributing to the sense of ‘rate shock’ that dogged the program.”

…But above all, let’s not again make the same mistake of letting arbitrary decisions about what constitutes “too much” spending set the agenda.

If you had a blockage in one of your arteries, and the doctor told you that he’s only going to remove half of the blockage, you probably would want an explanation as to why. There might be a perfectly good reason, but you would certainly want to know that.

It’s time to put the onus on the moderates to justify half-measures, especially when those half-measures lead to (and have led to) mediocre policies that are politically harmful. There’s no evidence that arbitrary moderation–we can’t spend or tax more than $X–is a political winner, and plenty of evidence that it’s a loser.

Time for the moderates to justify their policies on policy and political grounds.

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1 Response to Justify the Moderates’ Cuts

  1. “Half measures availed us nothing.” I remember hearing once or twice or a bunch of times.

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