After holding the country hostage to force continued tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans are now announcing their second priority: cutting government spending, particularly the part that goes to the most vulnerable Americans.
In the Republican New Year's radio address, incoming Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire announced that for newly elected Republicans, "Job One is to stop wasteful Washington spending... The American people sent us to Congress with clear instructions: make government smaller, not bigger." High on their targets is what is left in the Obama recovery act, and any aid to states and localities already facing cuts in teachers and police.
This is bad policy.
If Republicans actually succeed in cutting $100 billion from domestic discretionary spending as they pledge they will, they could snuff out the fragile growth we are experiencing. But worse, it lacks any moral sense. It reminds me of ham-and-egg justice.
When you order up a ham-and-egg sandwich, the flavors and the aroma mix well. But if asked to sacrifice to make the sandwich, the chicken would say "no problem," lay an egg and keep on cackling. The pig would say "no, no, no," for he'd have to give up a leg. When folks say everyone should sacrifice, they are often talking about ham-and-egg justice.
Only the current conservative position is worse. Conservatives just fought to lower taxes on the wealthiest estates in the land. They pushed to sustain top-end tax cuts, while revoking the Make Work Pay tax break, effectively raising taxes on workers who earn less than $20,000 a year. And, as Sam Pizzigati points out in a blog posting at the invaluable Campaign for America's Future (OurFuture.org), a hidden provision in the tax deal allows the wealthy to avoid taxes by eviscerating the gift tax, allowing a wealthy couple with two kids to transfer $52,000 a year to their children without paying any gift tax. Even more, they let stand an obscure estate planning dodge known as the "Walton grantor retained annuity trust" that allows America's wealthy to understate the actual value of the assets they give away. Pizzigati quotes estate tax expert Stephan Leimberg as saying, "You have just witnessed a great bank robbery. The doors of the Treasury have been thrown open."
So while the children of the rich are likely to be showered with tax-free gifts over the next two years, the children of the middle class, the working class and poor parents will be going to public schools with more crowded classrooms and paying higher tuitions at public universities.
Those budgets will be cut because "we can't afford it." That's like a ham-and-egg sandwich, only instead of asking the hen to contribute an egg, we're lining her nest in satin.
It is likely to get worse.
High on the conservative hit list is Social Security. The president's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairs released a report calling for deep cuts in benefits, both raising the retirement age and cutting benefits over time for most retirees. Now, this isn't surprising. Co-chair Alan Simpson, a former Wyoming U.S. senator, has always mocked what he calls "greedy geezers" and scorns Social Security as welfare. And co-chair Erskine Bowles, an investment banker and former White House chief of staff, had been eager to privatize Social Security under Clinton.
But their report is now going to an incoming Republican majority whose budget chair has wanted to cut Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher program so seniors would pay the cost of rising health-care expenditures.
This is breathtaking.
Is it conceivable that anyone can justify what actually is taking place? Use taxpayers' money and deregulation to bail out bankers and empower the rich to get even richer? Cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and on their estates? And then announce that it is time for everyone to sacrifice, beginning with the elderly on Social Security and Medicare, young students on Pell grants and the poor on food stamps or in need of adequate health care?
That makes ham-and-egg justice look enlightened.