Why Republicans can’t cut

These days, virtually all Republicans call themselves “conservatives” and claim to be dedicated to cutting spending, balancing budgets, reducing debts and limiting government. Most of them are liars. The failure of the super committee this week was but the latest reminder.

The super committee was supposed to figure out how to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. If it failed, the result was supposed to be $1.2 trillion in “automatic cuts” over the next decade, with about $600 billion of that coming from the defense budget. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said any such cuts would be “devastating” to our military. Many prominent Republicans agreed with Panetta. Mitt Romney said: “We cannot put America’s safety in jeopardy by virtue of the failure of this committee.” Michele Bachmann echoed that sentiment: “We can’t do that to our brave men and women who are on the ground fighting for us.”

When conservative Republicans say they want to cut the Department of Education, the Department of Energy or anything else, liberal Democrats shriek that Republicans will “devastate” education, energy and any other part of our government that does not remain 100% intact. Conservatives rightly recognize this as a liberal scare tactic designed to prevent anyone from downsizing a federal government that so desperately needs downsizing. What separates liberals from conservatives is that whereas liberals love big government and will tell any lie to protect it, conservatives hate big government and will cut it at every opportunity they get — or at least this has long been perceived as the divide in American politics.

I stress the word “perceived,” because when it comes to Pentagon spending, too many Republicans still behave exactly like liberal Democrats.

The truth is that we don’t need to spend as much on defense as we’re spending now. We’re spending more on defense than at any time since World War II and almost as much as every other nation combined. Senator Tom Coburn has suggested that if we are going to start cutting, the Pentagon is the most logical place to start precisely because it is the most wasteful. But even more importantly, these “devastating” automatic cuts that are supposed to happen aren’t really cuts. As Senator Rand Paul explained on CNN the day the super committee failed:

This may surprise some people, but there will be no cuts in military spending because we’re only cutting proposed increases. If we do nothing, military spending goes up 23% over 10 years. If we [make these cuts], it will still go up 16%.

Paul is describing the classic liberal narrative that if proposed spending increases are in any way diminished, this constitutes a “cut.” Rush Limbaugh reminded his listeners of the fallacy of such thinking on his program Monday:

There will be no spending cuts. There are no spending cuts in sequestration or anything else. You know how the current services baseline budget works. The current services baseline budget projects an increase of let’s say 23%, just to pick a number, okay? Well, it is, it’s the same thing every year. When’s the last time the budget went down in anything? It doesn’t happen … So if something’s supposed to go up, spending go up 23%, and it’s only gonna go up 16%, they wail and moan about a 7% cut.

Added Limbaugh:

Defense spending is going up even with sequestration … You understand the current services baseline budgeting, and even you are shocked to realize now that there is no real cut from a baseline of zero in defense spending.