Don't build straw men for the opposition to knock down. Successful politics should always be a build-your-own straw man affair, otherwise you are just setting the table for your opponents.
It seems that the Republican alternative budget proposal released on April 1st violates this rule of political tactics. It has, of course, become the object of ridicule in the liberal blogosphere both nationally, and here in Wisconsin. For those that support the Obama budget and its spending increases, why not. Attacking a proposal that has no chance of becoming, or even influencing, the actual budget has no downside. It only sweetens the deal if there are any details, no matter how small, contained in the proposal that can be pulled out and held up as objects of ridicule. This method, after all, is the way much of our political discourse (and our blogging) works.
So no matter how good their intentions, Ryan and the Republicans should not have offered up a budget proposal whose only possible utility was as a punching bag for the Democratic party.
The existence of this alternative proposal draws attention away from the real problem: the massive long term deficit spending contemplated under the Obama budget.
The question remains, how does one respond when the White House Press Secretary claims that Republicans have gone from the part of no, to the party of no ideas?
In this case the answer is easy. Budgets are about spending, therefore one should avoid the straw men altogether and talk about the spending.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates are stark:
- As estimated by CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation, the President’s proposals would add $4.8 trillion to the baseline deficits over the 2010–2019 period.
- The cumulative deficit from 2010 to 2019 under the President’s proposals would total $9.3 trillion, compared with a cumulative deficit of $4.4 trillion projected under the current-law assumptions embodied in CBO’s baseline.
- Debt held by the public would rise, from 41 percent of GDP in 2008 to 57 percent in 2009 and then to 82 percent of GDP by 2019 (compared with 56 percent of GDP in that year under baseline assumptions).
In addition, Republicans should have emphasized the remarks of Obama's budget Director, Peter Orszag, in his March 20th conference call:
Q: But what about the question itself, which is are deficits of 4 (percent) or 5 percents of GDP sustainable?So instead of talking about mountains of debt, which, in the words of the budget director, are "unsustainable," Republicans spent time developing, and now defending, their own proposal. A proposal which, given their minority status, has no chance of affecting the budget process.
MR. ORSZAG: Deficits in the let's say 5 percent of GDP range would lead to rising debt-to-GDP ratios in a manner that would ultimately not be sustainable.
So to Republicans I would say, if you think the proposed level of spending is too high and will negatively impact the country, good. Go tear apart the Obama budget and fight the spending. Just leave the straw men behind next time. Democrats can build their own.