Thursday, October 14, 2010

We're All Doomed

Three youngish Republican congressmen, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan, have published a book with the strikingly self-important title Young Guns, explaining how they're going to fix America's problems. Is this what we've been waiting for, intelligent and thoughtful Republican policy proposals?

Sadly, no. In fact, it's worse than I feared. Ray Suarez interviewed Cantor and McCarthy for PBS. Here are some highlights: 

REP. ERIC CANTOR: First of all, as far as the tax rates are concerned, you know, so many people are talking about tax cuts, when the reality is, one of two things is going to happen January 1, 2011. Either your tax rates are going to go up or they're going to stay the same.

Nobody's talking about any tax cuts. And small businesses out there right now are looking to see, oh, my goodness, are my taxes going to go up? Can I really afford to keep the lights on and employ people right now?So, that's when Kevin says first order of business has got to be to settle the uncertainty, so we can get folks back into a mind-set that they can begin to grow again and create wealth, not just depend on the government to take it from them and redistribute it.

Well, hang on a second, Congressman. One of two things is going to happen on January 1: the Bush-era tax cuts that Republicans passed as temporary are going to expire, or they're not. True, everyone knew Republicans were lying so that they wouldn't have to admit what a hole they were blowing in the budget, but the fact is that's the law you passed. If you're so worried about uncertainty, why did you make the tax cuts temporary?

RAY SUAREZ: Members of your own caucus have said, don't worry. Social Security's not on the table, military spending's not on the table, and Medicare's not on the table.
Well, if you take those three and you say, we're walling them off, it's hard to imagine what you could cut to get us to balance at some point in the future.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: Not really. Not really.

Yes, really, Congressman. Take total federal discretionary spending, exclude defense spending, and we're left with about $700 billion. That includes the State Department, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, the Small Business Administration, Veterans' Affairs, and everything else. Cut everything by twenty percent and you reduce the deficit by $140 billion.  So now, how are you going to get us to balance? 

RAY SUAREZ: Well, give me some examples.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY: I will give you an example. Anybody that rides a first-class ticket on Amtrak, that's only 16 percent. But you know, when you buy that sleeper car, the taxpayer spends $364 subsidizing your ticket, so you could have your bed drawn down.

To start with, Congressman, I don't believe that anything but a really bad cost-accounting system is going to tell you that the taxpayer is spending $364 subsidizing a first-class sleeper ticket. According to a website I found (it's hard to figure this out from Amtrak's website) the accommodation charge for a deluxe bedroom is $332, not including rail fare. Are you saying a first-class sleeper ticket costs Amtrak $700 a night? Sorry, I don't believe it. But apart from that, what do all the first-class subsidies on Amtrak total up to? Chump change. 

Do you realize that we give economic aid -- not humanitarian aid -- to countries that have $50 billion or more in debt they own for us, meaning that we're borrowing 40 cents out of a dollar from China to give them the millions of dollars?

Huh? Sorry, Congressman, now you're just gibbering. "And to the republic for Richard Stans, one nation, invisible..."

What is most depressing about this is not that intellectually the Republicans are once again firing blanks. It is that they seem anxious to return to the golden Reagan years of meaningless but inflammatory anecdotes. In place of welfare queens we have sleeper cars. And no one will call them on this. How far can Ray Suarez go before Republicans start trying to cut the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Who is going to say it's not so if you claim that a first-class ticket is costing taxpayers $364? Or $463? Or $643?

I won't say political debate in America is going to get more dishonest, trivial and irresponsible than it is now. But there's no sign of its getting any better.

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