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Robert L. Borosage Headshot

The GOP: Grand, Old and Preposterous

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The GOP is unable and unwilling to have a serious conversation with Americans about the fix we are in. Instead, the party's leaders posture and pose, as practiced as a Gregorian chorus in chanting their poll tested messaging that makes utterly no sense.

President Obama has just put forth his 2011 budget. It wrestles with priorities in a country facing double digit unemployment and record deficits while waging two wars. The president seeks a small jobs program in the short term, while committing to deficit reduction beginning next year. He would raise top end taxes, crack down on multinational tax havens, force equity fund managers to pay income taxes like the rest of us, while putting a freeze on domestic discretionary spending for three years, embracing "pay-go" budget discipline on any increase in entitlements or cuts in taxes, and pushing for health care reform which addresses the source of long term deficits -- out of control health care costs.

Like any budget, the president's is a political document -- reflecting both his priorities and his compromises. Progressives and conservatives will find much to criticize. It deserves, at the very least, an adult response from the opposition.

Instead the House Republican leader, the perpetually tanned John Boehner, greets the president's proposal with poll-tested message:

"President Obama is submitting another budget that spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. Filled with more reckless spending and more unsustainable debt, the president's budget is just more of the same at a time when the American people are looking for Democrats in Washington to listen and change course."

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, fresh from voting against what was his own wrong-headed enthusiasm, the bipartisan deficit commission, says, "'Look, I don't think anybody in the country thinks we have a problem because we tax too little, I think the problem is we spend too much." So, I like the commission idea, just as I said a few months ago. I think a better way to do it is target spending.'

"Spend too much, tax too much and borrow too much." Clearly, Republicans believe that we can reduce our deficits by cutting spending even while cutting taxes. So what would they cut?

Boehner refers the president to the 2009 Republican budget, put together by Rep. Paul D. Ryan, who passes as the party's idea man.

That budget would freeze domestic discretionary spending till 2014, but Obama's budget does that. It would increase spending on the military over the Obama budget, and pledge all the money needed to fight two wars (with Republicans insisting that the military get more, not less resources to do so). It would create a "trigger" on Social Security that might cut benefits for "high income earners," but not until 2036. No savings there.

So where do the cuts come from? The Republican budget would repeal any spending remaining in the recovery act and oppose any new spending for jobs. This includes repealing the "Make Work Pay" tax credit that gives most Americans a small tax break, and presumably the support for food stamps, aid to states to avoid layoffs of teachers and police, and the infrastructure construction projects that remain. But there isn't a lot of money left in the recovery plan and the president's new proposal is modest, at best.

The big cuts come from Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans now rail against any "Medicare cuts," referring to the end of billions in subsidies to enable private insurance companies to compete with Medicare. But the Republican budget would abolish Medicare for everyone under 55, replacing it with a voucher program that would be outpaced by inflation over time. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that means about $600 billion in cuts over 10 years would come from Medicare spending.

It would similarly end the guarantee that Medicaid provides to low income children, seniors and the disabled, turning it into a block grant to states that would create over $600 billion in cuts below projected expenditures.

But at the same time, the Ryan budget extends generous tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. It would not only extend the top end Bush tax cuts that Obama would let expire, it would lower the top rate from 35% to 25%, and eliminate taxes on capital gains which go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest Americans. The Citizens for Tax Justice estimates this constitutes another tax break of about $75,000 a year for America's millionaires (the wealthiest 1%). (While over a third of low and middle income taxpayers would pay more under the Republican plan that Obama's plan). It would cut the corporate tax rate to 25% without closing any loopholes that already enable the US corporations to pay one of the lowest effective tax rates in the industrialized world. The income tax proposals would have cost about $225 billion more in 2010 alone than the president's budget.

Lowering taxes while cutting Medicare and Medicaid doesn't help in lowering the deficits. The Republican budget suggests -- ignoring the lesson of the last 10 years -- that trickle down tax cuts will produce faster growth.

Fact is Republicans don't have a plan for deficit reduction -- they just have different priorities. They want tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations that they would pay for with deep cuts for working and poor families, and the elderly in Medicare and Medicaid. They'd spend more on the military and even less on domestic investments.

This is what George Bush Sr. called "voodoo economics," the same voodoo that led us off the cliff under George Bush and handed Obama two wars, an economy in free fall and a trillion dollar deficit when he walked in the door.

Republicans don't have a policy, they have a posture. They don't have a program; they have a "message." We could call them the stupid party, but this is working well for them. Only for the country, it doesn't add up.