Memo to the Media: There Is no Fiscal Cliff -- Stop Calling it That!
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JH: It’s what happens when a significant share of your caucus are just complete ideologues. Now, Dems appear to be hanging tough on this one. They’re saying that they may be willing to just let all the cuts and tax hikes go into effect and just start with a clean slate.
This has always seemed an obvious path to many observers. We’re talking about the “Bush tax cuts” almost four years after he’s left office. The Dems might be better off just offering middle class tax cuts and calling them the Obama cuts.
I guess my question is whether you think they’ll have the backbone to stick to their guns on this, when it really comes down to shutting down the government? The basic Republican narrative is that government doesn’t work. This is something that Democrats don’t share, and that's kind of an inherent disadvantange in these fights.
SC: The interesting thing here is Republicans do use that rhetoric. Government doesn’t work and we need to have less of it. But you read the polls carefully, they say Americans don’t want less government. They just want government that costs less. Every time the government shuts down, people get furious. I mean everyone from seniors who are trying to get into a national park -- because the grass is not allowed to grow apparently when the government's shut down -- to contractors who realize there’s nobody there to process their invoices, let alone someone at the Department of Education who is there to answer your questions about student loans.
I don’t know how many people remember the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, but people were furious and irate. Republicans seriously took it on the chin. So I’m not sure that there’s a lot to be gained by the Republicans -- except from their own base -- by shutting down the government or even threatening to shut down the government. And if they don’t have their base five weeks before the election, if they need to do something to sure up the base, if the base isn’t with them at that point, then the election is long gone. They shouldn’t be playing to the base at that point. They should be playing to the independents, who definitely don’t want the government shut down.
JH: I think one of the defining principles of our political economy -- and our political discourse about the economy -- is that people dislike “big government” as an abstraction, but then when you get to the specifics -- looking at Social Security or good roads -- they really like most of what government does.
SC: Almost poll after poll -- regardless if it’s a poll of Republicans or Democrats or Independents -- shows time after time that the only area where there’s universal support for cutting is foreign aid. Sometimes NASA, unless you live in Houston or Florida. More people are willing to get rid of that because they don’t think it benefits them. But every other are of government activity, every single one -- Medicare, defense, public education, whatever -- people are saying spend more, not less. My favorite poll on this is one of Tea Party people from South Dakota. Even they said – 65 percent of them said -- do not cut Medicare. In fact if anything increase it. If that’s where the Tea Party is then you can see why this is such an intractable problem. Playing to the base doesn’t help, because they’re a subset of a subset of a subset of Americans.
JH: Even when you talk about their willingness to cut foreign aid, that’s based on a faulty premise about how much we spend on foreign aid. It’s about 1 percent of the budget, right?