“Conservative” NYT columnist, David Brooks, has suddenly turned optimist. He opines that the upcoming vote on the debt ceiling will force Congress into a real compromise on spending cuts. He assures us: “Something good is about to happen.” The Republicans have leverage because “the debt-ceiling limit has to pass.” This is their chance to really stick it to the free spending Democrats.
Wait a minute. In reading further, I am less optimistic: “Congress won’t be able to produce specific program cuts and policy reform in the next few weeks, but it can come up with structural rules that will obligate future Congresses to make cuts and reforms for years ahead.”
It is all clear now. We won’t make significant cuts now but future Congresses will. As Brooks notes: “The important argument now is over what kind of restrictions to impose on future Congresses.”
Last I heard, future Congresses tax and spend as they see fit in the future. Our history is littered with the carcasses of “pay as you go” agreements and promises to spend less “next year.” Republicans, who have fallen for this line, deserve what they get. George H. W. Bush might have had a second term if he had not fallen for this, the oldest bait and switch.
Here is what Brooks wants: A bill that would cap federal spending at 20.6 percent of GDP, the recent historic average. If spending rose above that, automatic cuts would ensue. Well, let’s pass that one and see how long it is honored by future Congresses. The only thing that counts is what we do now, not what we say we will do later.
Brooks seems to have great faith in rules that bind future Congresses. He credits pay-as-you-go rules “for restraining spending and debt in the 1990s.” How long did they last? Was the remarkable spending restraint of the 1990s not the result of a strong Republican majority and a Democratic president who decided to make a strong move to the center?
Rules for future Congresses mean next to nothing. The only thing that counts is who wins the 2012 elections. If the Republicans gain a strong Congressional majority, the “rules” might be followed. If not, forget about the iron-clad rule from 2011.
My advice: If the Republicans have leverage now, they must use it to cut now.
As far as the Republicans are concerned, with David Brooks as a friend, who needs enemies?