Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

It’s beating a dead horse to point out that the American public, which supposedly wants federal spending slashed to the bone, wants no such thing when you ask them about cuts to actual programs. But Bruce Bartlett points out something interesting today: not only are Americans reluctant to support major cuts in actual programs, they’re even more reluctant than they were 30 years ago when Ronald Reagan took office. This suggests a lesson:

Considering how little spending actually got cut in 1981, this suggests that Republicans may have a lot less political capital to play with than they imagine. It also suggests that their strategy of front-loading spending cuts in the fiscal year 2011 is very ill-conceived. They are using up all the political capital they have for cutting spending in a way that is highly unlikely to be successful and that will not yield long-term savings. By the time they get around to doing something about entitlements, they may find that budget cutting exhaustion and frustration has set in and there is no support left for big budget cuts. It may be that they have one bite at the budget-cutting apple and they are squandering it.

Parties always come to power thinking they have more political capital than they do. Reagan couldn’t cut the budget much, Clinton couldn’t enact healthcare, and Gingrich couldn’t pass his Contract With America. Americans might throw the bums out with regularity, but that doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly done a U-turn on their political beliefs. At most they’ve shifted in their seats slightly.

I’m not a huge deficit hawk, but I do think the long-term deficit is a problem that we’d do well to address. But above all else, this means tax increases and slower growth in healthcare spending, and we’re plainly in no shape to do either of those things right now.

Here’s my guess: the best time to do this is in 2013. The Republican Party needs to get the tea party out of its system and wait for guys like Glenn Beck to outlive their 15 minutes of fame. They need to get over the idea that another two years of lunacy will allow them to win back the White House. Barack Obama needs to win reelection without promising to extend the Bush tax cuts. And the rest of us need to let the economy recover so we’re dealing with the deficit from a position of realism, not panic.

At that point, with Obama back in office and Republicans chastened, it’s possible — barely — that we can come up with some kind of one-time bargain that raises taxes, cuts Social Security slightly, reins in Medicare, and makes some cuts to the defense budget. The odds aren’t good, but they’ll be a lot better than zero, which is what they are now. Bruce is right: this is the kind of thing where you get one big shot, and it’s foolish to waste it right now.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate