Before they cut, Republican leaders need a dose of reality

The Republican Party is on a roll right now, controlling the high ground in political debates from Washington to state capitals across the US.

Some of their issues — including the outsized Federal deficit and concerns about the size of government — have gained real traction in the public zeitgeist.

And there is absolutely no doubt that we need at least one political party right now that is focused on those questions.

But shrinking government is a tough, complicated business and too often the GOP is throwing out full-bore nonsense instead of coherent policy ideas.

A case in point is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s recent claim that Medicaid recipients in his state are pulling up “at the pharmacy window in a BMW and say[ing] they can’t afford their co-payment.”

Barbour’s “welfare queen” style rhetoric matches the goofy notion offered up by many conservatives that the reason people aren’t working in the current economy is that they just aren’t motivated enough.

That was the argument put forward last year by the Heritage Foundation when they advocated for curtailing jobless benefits for millions of laid-off workers.

“As long as you’ve got those insurance payments coming in, people become more selective about the jobs they’re willing to take,” said James Sherk, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

“It’s not meant to be or designed to be a handout or a welfare program; it’s designed to be an insurance program.”

This is, in a nutshell, ludicrous.

The vast, overwhelming majority of people who resort to programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance do so because it’s their only option.

Yes, there is waste, fraud and abuse.  And we should weed it out whenever and wherever possible.

But as the Washington Post points out, Mississippi only grants Medicaid benefits to people earning around $8,000 a year.   Not a lot of BMW drivers in that demographic.

(For the record, Gov. Barbour and his staff were unable to provide any factual basis for his claim about rich people abusing his state’s Medicaid system.)

In order for Republicans to make smart decisions about where and how to cut government, they first need to look honestly and rationally at the reasons people use government.

The current ideological message being echoed by some of the conservative movement’s best and brightest is that social safety net programs are only for shirkers and bums.

(Last year, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson caught flak for calling Social Security “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”)

That’s not only insulting, it’s also factually wrong.  Social Security is an incredibly efficient program, one which all but ended the epidemic of elderly poverty in America.

The vast majority of our citizens support Social Security — and Medicaid, for that matter — not because we are lazy, government-trough-sucking socialists, but because we want government to play some role in solving big problems.

The truth is that we are going to have to trim some of these programs, and make them more efficient, in order to bring government spending back into line with tax revenues.

But unless Republicans look at the problem factually and rationally, it’s hard to see how they can produce the smart, careful leadrship that the fiscal crisis demands.

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34 Responses to “Before they cut, Republican leaders need a dose of reality”

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  1. phahn50 says:

    Republicans dont do factual and rational.

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  2. Bret4207 says:

    I would agree with the spirit of your post Brian. Some of the specifics we disagree on (UI most certainly DOES result in people being far more choosy about what job they’ll take, that’s a fact I’ve seen demonstrated numerous times), but over all I see the Republicans doing things just like they and the Democrats always so- an all or nothing bandaid approach that fits sound bites and focus group desires. Whether or not Social Security is Constitutional or properly managed isn’t the issue. The issue is too many people bought into the myth that the gov’t would take care of them and we have to provide a certain level of support to that idea that gov’t sold. Same for medical coverage programs, subsidies, etc.

    I said in the past I had little faith in our so called conservative Republicans being able to follow through with conservative ideas. These people are career politicians whose main concern is staying off e and gaining power, just like their Democrat counterparts. Until they stop paying lip service tot Tea Party ideals and actually start thinking about the long term good of the nation I think we’ll see things continue on just as they are. Promise the moon, spend like crazy and make sure you use the taxpayers money to get re-elected. That goes for both parties BTW.

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  3. Bret4207 says:

    Yeah Phan, you’re correct. But you forget to add that your Dems have an even worse track record on those subjects.

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  4. Dan3583 says:

    We aren’t very good at saying, “What’s the real issue?”, “What is a real, long-term solution that will address the root problem and will have the most positive impact over time?”, and then figuring out how to realistically get from A to B. Instead, we identify sound bite issues and put bandaids on them, which often causes more problems then they fix. I don’t know what the solutions are. I do believe that the unfortunate truth is that most pols are more concerned with staying in office than in developing real solutions. I heard a quote from the Speaker today that this federal budget is the first one in his years in office that actually made cuts. I seem to recall that a few of those years were when we had a GOP pres and Congress. I don’t want to blame either parties or ideologies. I want prudent people to wpork together to reach real solutions.

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  5. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Neither party is being honest with the public when it comes to cutting the size of the federal budget. Instead of dealing with reform and funding cuts within the defense budget, Social Security, and Medicaid/Medicare, they roll out proposals to cut funding in programs that are a pittance of the over all budget and less likely to cost them votes in 2012. It’s all just political theater and does nothing to address our fiscal problems. And so we just kick the can down the road yet again.

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  6. RationalandLogical says:

    The very framework of your comments Brian are all wrong and demonstrate how skewed the public has become when they consider economic issues. The framework of discussions relating to economy need to consider the private side of the economy. The government and its associated public programs should not be the focus. Such focus is ill advised and misplaced. The chief concern should not be how we continue a governmental program. The focus should be how can we best build wealth and prosperity. People work best and produce the most and raise their own standard of living when they have the liberty to choose their own path and make their own choices. This is why the American economy is the most dynamic in history. If dependency and attitudes of entitlement continue and grow this dynamic will be reduced and potentially lost. How we fund social security should be a secondary concern because it VERY important to bear in mind a key phrase of the US Constitution. We are endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the PURSUIT of happiness. Words have meaning and this concept is never more important than when one considers how our founding documents are worded. Happiness is specifically not framed as a right but the PURSUIT is. Meaning happiness is to be pursued, earned and worked for. A very sound concept and one that I am afraid in this climate of governmental focus and dependency that is fading with each generation.

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  7. phahn50 says:

    Actually Bret – I personally think the Dems do a little better than the repubs at rational and factual. The Repubs excel at moral outrage and moral clarity. But i agree they are all politicians that make promises they know they cant keep.

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  8. phahn50 says:

    If you are going to do rational and factual and want to cut the deficit, you have to start with the big three: defense, medicare, and social security. Nobody is doing that.

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  9. Bret4207 says:

    And to counter that point I just refer to the Democrats outrage at so called social injustice and environmental/social inequities. The Repub gets bent out of shape over cuts to Defense and the Dems support Pelosi when she says things like “unemployment benefits drive the economy”. 6 of one, a half dozen of the other. When Barb Boxer gives special dispensation to her husbands tuna canning factory in Somoa it’s fine by the Dems but when a Repub Gov tells a public union it’s got to give a little back, well that’s just evil…same thing.

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  10. phahn50 says:

    the only hope is that they are getting together behind closed doors to deal with the deficit problem.

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  11. Brian says:

    Darn you Brian Mann and your pesky facts.

    And Bret, both parties are comparably under the control of corporate puppet masters and their cash. That’s why I vote Green. Democrats have an incredible ability to rationalize their complicity with those defending the corporate war against the working class. At least Republicans are more honest about doing the same.

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  12. Pete Klein says:

    Correction – The Republican Party is on a roll right now, controlling the low ground.
    Let’s be honest here. If you are laid off and are approved to receive unemployment insurance, you would be an idiot to take a job that pays less than what you are receiving in unemployment benefits.
    You would also be an idiot to refuse to take a job if it paid more than your unemployment benefits.
    The tactic being used by most Republicans and some Democrats is one of divide and conquer. Get the average person to go after those at the bottom to deflect their anger from those at the top. In one sentence – everything is the fault of the unemployed, the poor and the elderly.
    Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the richer you are, the more of an American you are?

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  13. JDM says:

    So far, neither party is known for cutting much of anything.

    So far, Obama has his foot on the spending accelerator pedal.

    Before you get to cautionary about applying the brakes, let’s see what form (if any) it takes.

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  14. mervel says:

    Programs for the poor are not causing the fiscal problems we have.

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  15. Paul says:

    PBS had an excellent documentary on Alan Simpson early this week. If we had more politicians like him today we might actually get things done. But these days it is all about sniping and maneuvering. Today he would just be considered a liberal pro-choice slacker. Too bad.

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  16. PNElba says:

    Should the US be subsidizing big oil? Evidently yes. A vote a few days ago to cut subsidies to big profitable oil companies got how many Republican votes? Zero. Yet there is no question that cuts to education, medicaid, etc are necessary. So be it.

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  17. Bret4207 says:

    Well, Obama signed some bill a while back giving some obscene amount of money to Chavez or some other dictator down in SA to develop their oil fields while closing off our fields. Little issues like that need addressing.

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  18. Bill G says:

    I’d be curious to hear more about Obama giving some obscene amount of money to Chavez, but it’s a little off topic. At the core of the issue of budget cuts though is the abysmal lack of understanding of the general public about the nature and extent of the problem. A number of recent opinion polls have indicated that a large swath of the American public believes that the elimination of waste, fraud and abuse or the reduction of foreign aid will address the problem. Most believe there should be cuts but not to programs that affect them, specifically SS and Medicare. How can we expect to be able to hold politicians to account if most Americans don’t have a clue?

    I subscribe to the belief that politicians of both parties are more interested in reelection than in taking the long view of what’s good for the country. If the public expressed its will to have the core issues addressed, politicians would undoubtedly take notice. While some may think the tea party is a manifestation of this approach, I suspect that these old white guys (BTW, I’m old and I’m white) will be as unlikely to be willing to sacrifice as everyone else.

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  19. oa says:

    Citation please, Bret. I’m betting it wasn’t Chavez. Brazil, maybe? If so, that’s not Chavez.

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  20. David says:

    RationalandLogical seems a bit confused. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

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  21. PNElba says:

    Yeah, you can go to snopes.com and see that Obama did no such thing. Yes, money was loaned to Brazil by the Export-Import Bank of the US. The banks role”is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets”. The board of the bank was appointed by G.W. Bush. The loan was approved before any Obama appointees were on the board. Were tax dollars used? Not so much. The ex-im bank points out that “the vast majority of our financing consists of guarantees of loans made by commercial lenders,” that “the bank is self-sustaining and does not receive any appropriated funds from Congress,” and that “the Bank’s activities do not cost the American taxpayer a dime.”

    You can check this out on factcheck.org also. But why bother when facts and evidence no longer matter.

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  22. Bill G says:

    There are enough substantive issues on which to criticize Obama, so I always scratch my head when I read that he was born in another country, hates America, is a closet Muslim, etc. These claims, among many others, may play well with the fringe but they detract from a discussion of the legitimate issues and they turn off unideological independents (like myself). In the long run I think these types of characterizations will backfire and those on the right who fail to distance themselves from them will pay a political price.

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  23. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I noticed the House voted down removing subsidies for oil companies the other day. Not one Republican voted to remove them. I guess those billions are absolutely necessary to the bottom line of our oil companies as by god 10 billion a quarter in profit just isn’t enough for Chevron. And to be fair, a few Dems voted no as well. Who’s regulating who?

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  24. Bret4207 says:

    Brazil, yes OA. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203863204574346610120524166.html

    I stand corrected, but I did note it wasn’t necessarily Chavez. He gets his funding from China.

    As for snopes ( a husband/wife team that are heavy Democrat supporters, hardly an unbiased source), even they make note of the important points-

    “The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Ex-Im Bank’s mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.”

    So how exactly is guaranteeing a loan to Brazil assisting ” in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.”??? The Director of the organization rebutted the WSJ article and said it would provide jobs for Americans, which isn’t in their charter, but doesn’t state just how that would happen. Furthermore, this ridiculous claim that it isn’t Obamas responsibility is typical liberal Democrat fluff. Of course it’s Obamas responsibility! It occurred under his watch, he gets the heat. If that’s not the way things work then 9/11 should be laid on Clintons shoulders, not Bushs!

    I realize this is off on a tangent, but the subject of “big oil” subsidies was brought up by the same poster now trying to defend the current administration for the Ex/Im decision. The fact remains Obamas Czar Salazar has refused to issue permits for drilling, even after a court ordered him to last June, until just yesterday. Here we are in a major recession with rising fuel prices and millions unemployed and the current administration plays politics with our future. I wouldn’t expect much more
    from the typical RINO Republican, but we should at least open our eyes enough to see the obvious.

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  25. PNElba says:

    So a previous poster made an incorrect claim about President Obama “giving some obscene amount of money of money to Chavez or some other dictator down in SA to develop their oil fields while closing off our fields”. Evidence shows that almost nothing, well actually nothing, about that statement was correct. No money was “given” to anyone, especially to any dictator. But the evidence is wrong because it was debunked by “heavy democrat supporters”. No mention of factcheck.org debunking the same misinformation. Speaking of factcheck.org….they factchecked the statement that ” a husband/wife team that are heavy Democrat supporters”. There is no such evidence. The wife is a Canadian who cannot vote and cannot legally give money to political candidates. The husband was a registered republican in 2000 and most recently has not registered with any political party. Also, there is no evidence that he has made donations to any political candidate. Factcheck goes on to debunk many more statements about the Mikkelsons. Not surprisingly, these misinformed statements come primarily from conservative blogs that picked up the misinformation from widely spread email accusations.

    Yeah, I agree this doesn’t have a lot to do with the deficit. It does have a lot to do with conservative misinformation distributed by “urban legend” type emails and endlessly repeated by conservative blogs as fact.

    I also understand that presenting facts is purely “Democratic fluff”. That is one basis for many of the political problems we have today. Evidence no longer matters. Also, there are people who have no problem posting misinformation when the facts state otherwise. These misinformed posts can always be easily explained away in later posts.

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  26. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    All I know is we’re still giving billions in subsidies to very profitable international energy corporations. And both sides of the aisle seem reluctant to end this nonsense at a time when we can’t afford it and they don’t need it.

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  27. PNElba says:

    Conservative argument: subsidies = tax credits. Get rid of them and you are raising taxes. We don’t raise taxes.

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    and we are to believe that no foreigner ever gave a political donation??? Gee, lets close our eyes and forget Charlie Tree and the Clintons selling military secrets for campaign contributions. Oh yeah, thats right, you have to parse it in exactly perfect terms or it’s not “true”. Sure. And when someone says they never did something then it must be true! I can find no record of my political contributions, what makes us think that means the Mikkelsons never gave anything? And btw- he’s was last registered as an independent not a Republican.

    But, you ignore the point of the problem. Why did Ex/Im Bank back a loan to a foreign country, under Obamas watch, and say it was within it’s charter to do so? $2 billion is an obscene amount of money IMO, especially since it’s not helping the US. Please, spin that into a logical move. And tell me again why it’s not Obamas responsibility? Oh yeah, ‘cuz he doesn’t take responsibility of anything!

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  29. Zeke says:

    You want fraud waste and abuse? I got your fraud, waste and abuse right here!
    http://budget.senate.gov/democratic/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=77a58e62-b85b-47f4-b8c6-9cf1ecb8f749
    Now shutup about social security, medicaid and public pensions.

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  30. Walker says:

    I can’t believe that we can’t put the Defense Budget on the table– we spend more on defense that the next 15 or 20 countries _combined_, and what does it do for us, besides helping Al Qaeda and the Taliban recruit suicide bombers? Now it even looks like we could have been rid of Sadam without the 5000 US fatalities and 32,000 US wounded, if we’d just been patient. We throw money at the military that even the military doesn’t want. And a $2 billion non tax-based loan to Brazil? That wouldn’t fund the military’s marching bands for a month! (I am making that up, but we do spend some serious money on our all-important marching bands.)

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  31. PNElba says:

    Walker, don’t worry about that little parsing error about the cost of military marching bands. It doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

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  32. Walker says:

    That’s right, we’re all entitled to our own facts!

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  33. Walker says:

    Darn! I looked it up, and although precise figures appear to be unavailable, it seems to be only in the neighborhood of “hundreds of millions.” Still, you spend hundreds of millions here and hundreds of millions there, and pretty soon it begins to add up.

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  34. Bret4207 says:

    I have no issue with putting the defense budget on the table. It has to be done. We engaged in an experiment- defeat the enemy and see if we can play Mr. Nice Guy afterwords and leave a better place behind when we left. IMO we would have been better off defeating the enemy and walking away. It also seems, on reflection, we would have been better off simply assassinating the heads of the gov’ts and leaving it at that. Not very PC, but financially viable.

    So lets bring the boys home from the sandbox. Call it a win, at least a draw. Fine. What then? Do we also bring them home from Korea? Europe and Balkans? Africa and the rest of the Gulf region? Do we RIF a large portion of the military and contribute to the UE rate? Do we cancel contracts and projects and contribute to falling stocks, lowered revenue and the UE rate? Do we start another base closure project and pull the legs out from under hundreds of thousands depending on the bases in their area? Do we draw down so far we become unable to protect ourselves again?

    I can see both sides of the argument and I have little faith in our politicians making good choices. I have even less faith that any savings would be put towards solving our long term financial woes. The very second any “extra” money appears the clamor for funding some special interest project or pork barrel vote buying scheme will become a “vital need!!!”. I wish I had faith that wiser heads would prevail, but experience tells me otherwise.

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