Thursday, April 02, 2009

About that ugly GOP budget projection

Guest post by Boatboy

Boatboy is the author of the blog The View from the Docks.

I've been reading the various posts by several eloquent individuals who have thoroughly and effectively dissected the GOP "budget" documents. Doing so, I noticed that there is something in the data that everyone else has missed.

The GOP graph that has spawned so much ridicule shows a radical increase in federal share of GDP starting about 2030. The GOP is claiming that this upswing is a consequence of current Democratic fiscal policy. However, the upswing is two full decades out. If this were a consequence of the current administration's policies, one would expect this upswing to occur much earlier. It does not.

This tells me one thing:

Barack Obama isn't the problem.

Not Obama. Not Pelosi, nor Frank, nor Dodd, nor any of the other Democratic figures currently in power. Obama's term will end no later than January 2017, so unless the numbers are an indirect way for the GOP to assert Obama will seek to repeal the 22nd Amendment and pull an Hugo Chavez so he can play the next FDR, then Obama will not be president for more than a decade before the increase hits. The others will likely all have retired some time before the moment when this upswing occurs, so they're out, too.

So the GOP isn't all that scared of our current administration, or its policies, or its current allies. But they are deathly afraid of something.

I see four possible causes for this.

1) Somewhere there's a handful of twenty- or thirty-something Democrats that scare the pogees out of the GOP. Who these people are, where they are, and what they've done to deserve this almost irrational fear I cannot say. But the President and Congress elected in 2028 clearly deserve the lion's share of the blame for the uptick, and whoever the GOP thinks these people will be are the chief culprits. Given recent history, I'm inclined to look at the disillusioned among the veterans of the GWoT and the Iraqulous War, who are through with GOP talking points and ready for Something Completely Different.

2) The graph includes the assumption that there will be a GOP successor to Obama, who will screw up the economy so badly that the electorate will welcome Democratic proposals unconditionally, and whose legacy will require the kind of expenditure indicated. Given how thoroughly ShrubCo cooked the federal goose in eight years, this is a very real potential if the GOP continue to pursue the same policies they have for the last fifteen years. This also assumes that the GOP understands that its policies are designed to fail, which torpedoes their own arguments just as it explains their projections.

3) The increases, as Conor Clarke points out here, may be related to increases in spending on Social Security and (especially) Medicare and Medicaid. This is at once admission of the failure of private medicine, assumption that both programmes will continue unchanged, which is unlikely given that the demands on both programmes are largely driven by skyrocketing health care costs already under close scrutiny – and a blatant case of elder bashing, since the problem clearly comes from all those old folks living so long.

4) Since the graph indicates percentage of GDP, not absolute dollars spent, the GOP is predicting a total private-sector collapse in two decades. Since their current financial model is one of minimal public investment, this assumption would describe the total halt of private industry as the continually-neglected domestic infrastructure collapses. In the resultant environment, the economy would require not merely repair to but complete replacement of domestic infrastructure: roads, power transmission, water, sewer and other systems will not only need repair and expansion, but outright replacement. Replacement is a lot more expensive than simple repair. It would also require public expenditure to replace private investment, which would no longer be possible if the entire economy crashes. Again, this points to GOP budgetary constraints, and the continuing neglect of public resources fostered by the party's ideology, far more than Democratic proposals to reinvigorate the economy and maintain the public sphere.

Of the four, the first seems to me the most hopeful scenario. Each of the others implies some sort of hardship for the nation, and half the options imply that hardship is a direct consequence of GOP fiscal and domestic policies.

In any event, the graph itself gives the lie to their own rhetoric. Obama's policies by themselves are not the problem: if they were, the increase would occur far earlier. The GOP is afraid of something else. Whether it's a SuperDemocrat entering office, or their own misdeeds coming back to haunt them, or some other factor, is unclear. What is clear is that it's not the next eight years that bothers them most.

(Cross-posted from The View from the Docks.)

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