That other budget

I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about the state budget – more than the Lege has spent, I daresay – but while this is happening there’s also the federal budget, the first one President Obama has proposed, to be debated and amended and eventually passed. I’m not going to get into the details of it, because there’s about a zillion other blogs that follow the national stuff more closely than I do and you’d be better served going to them for the nitty gritty, but I do want to say a couple of things about the process.

The first step in the process is the House Budget Committee, on which Texas Rep. and Vice Presidential contender Chet Edwards sits. My main hope here is that every Democrat on that committee, especially those who wear the “moderate” or “centrist” labels (whether they are self-defined or media-bestowed), has learned something about the Republicans from the stimulus debate. In particular, what I hope they’ve learned is that the Republicans don’t have any actual interest in passing a good budget. They’re in full-on opposition mode, bound and determined to say “No!” more often than Audrey does these days, and at the end of the day unless the budget eliminates spending and taxes altogether, they’re going to vote against it, most likely in unanimous fashion as they did with the stimulus package despite President Obama’s much-touted efforts to reach out to them. That’s perfectly logical as a political strategy, and everybody should be able to see this coming a mile away, but I fear that it won’t stop the “moderates” from trying to placate them to some degree, in the inevitably vain hope that they can buy some crossover support. I’m sorry, but that just ain’t gonna happen. We’ve seen their dance moves before: Scream about anything that can be turned into a sound bite in order to press for its removal, vote against the final bill regardless of how successful they are in altering it to their liking, then claim credit for any benefit it brings to their district while simultaneously slamming it for being wasteful. It’s as predictable as a slasher movie, yet the temptation to open that door anyway persists.

This doesn’t mean you can’t engage with the Republicans. If against all odds they offer up a good amendment on something, go ahead and consider it on its merits, and vote for or against it as you see fit. As long as you recognize that the outcome of that vote is independent of the outcome of the final vote, it’s all good. Similarly, by all means voice whatever objections you have to the bill, and work to make it better in whatever way you see fit. (Assuming it really is about making it better, and not about making headlines.) Again, just remember that there is no Republican support to be had in the end.

I know, I know – fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Democrats gotta bend and cajole and give. It’s the natural order of things. But hey, I can hope. And as long as I’m wishing for ponies, let me throw in a plea to avoid the pointless kabuki-ing about earmarks and “pork”. Let’s put aside the fact that earmarks constitute a tiny percentage of the budget, and that if these bellyachers were serious about “waste, fraud, and abuse” they’d turn their sights on the defense budget. The fact is that it’s very easy to play dumb about any number of line items in a budget and ignorantly pretend that because it sounds a little funny it must be wasteful. Republicans are a master of that, and they often get gullible mainstream journalists and pundits to play along – see, for example, Lisa Falkenberg and her silly remark about “the porkiest of pork projects, a study on why pigs smell“. (Hey, Lisa, let me Google that for you. I know how busy you must be churning out two columns a week. You’re welcome.) To paraphrase Colonel Flagg, don’t play dumb on this. They’re better at it than you are.

So anyway. There’s a lot to be hopeful about in the budget process, as we have the opportunity to change directions in a significant way after nearly thirty years. As Matt Yglesias observes, Democrats and progressives don’t get this kind of opportunity very often, but when they do they can have a profound and long-lasting effect. It’s up to them to take advantage, and up to those of us who want that to happen to remind them of that.

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