The Budget We Ignore

Ezra Klein wonders why the progressive budget proposal isn’t getting much coverage:

One recurrent theme in the commentary over the House Progressive Caucus’s budget proposal is that it’s not getting much attention because it’s too liberal, or it raises taxes too much, or it doesn’t cause seniors enough pain. I don’t buy it. The answer, I think, is more boring, and perhaps, more depressing. The focus is on what might pass — or at least what might be relevant in the upcoming argument over what might pass. It’s not on what might work.

I share Ezra’s puzzlement (although I think it’s as much a function of the liberal MSM over-compensating as their focusing on what might pass in the near future). What makes the media’s indifference to this plan so striking is that in its emphasis on raising taxes on the wealthy and slashing defense as the primary spending reduction, the plan is actually the closest out there to what the polls say is public opinion. And I don’t think that public opinion is that off.

If you take a few steps back and look at the current fiscal mess, you notice a few obvious things. Defense and entitlements are the biggies. Healthcare entitlements are very hard to cut and their costs devilishly hard to constrain (which is why the Ryan plan simply ends them as entitlements). But the defense budget is massively beyond any conceivable, rational notion of “defense” and could be cut with ease outside of politically charged base-closing in the US.

I mean, seriously, does sending drones into Libya have anything even faintly to do with defense? Power projection maybe. Humanitarian good maybe (and a big maybe). But defense of the nation? Please.

Given the exploded WMD premise, the same could be said of a trillion dollar war in Iraq. As for fighting al Qaeda, it’s now clear we should have had a massive troop surge in Pakistan, not Afghanistan (but it would be massively counter-productive and impossible), and seem to be in an open-ended military holding pattern largely to save face, or because we have decided not to cut a political deal.

Bottom line: If we did not have this kind of global reach, maybe all those nails wouldn’t look as if they needed a hammer.

When you are as broke as the US is, and when there is no rival military hegemon able and willing to do us harm, the military-industrial complex is an obvious place for massive cuts. If the US were a corporation that needed to make a profit, the Pentagon building would be a shopping mall by now.  But to make these cuts as a government would require conceding that America’s sixty years of global domination are no longer affordable, or even relevant. It would require owning the relative decline of the US. No leading politician can do that. And many, like Romney, will run on the dangerous delusion that we should still act in the world as if it were 1963.

Which is how all empires eventually collapse: in a welter of debt, denial and over-reach.