"It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber."
I was just a kid, probably in kindergarten or first grade when I first saw a poster of the above words hanging in my classroom. I didn't even know what a bomber was. I had no idea that schools didn't have the money they needed. I liked the idea of a bake sale though. These were the days before prop 13 defunded California schools. Ronald Reagan was the Gov. of our state. The Republican revolution was a long ways off.
As i grew older and began to pay attention to politics, that poster would come back to me from time to time, as the notion of cutting defense spending became one of the central refrains of my fellow travelers and I. But it also came to be seen as an impossible dream as Republicans used such talk to help create a perception of weakness from it to hang around our neck. This perception continued to haunt us throughout most of my political life - dissipating only when a Democratic president ordered the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden.
So keep in mind, it was with that context latent within my political DNA that I regarded the details of the proposed debt ceiling bill and its emphasis on defense cuts.
Here is what Ezra Klein said about it tonight:
Behind the deal is a creative way out of the impasse that’s held up the negotiations: how do you get “balanced approach” if Republicans refused to consider revenues? The solution that both sides seem to have settled on is to substitute defense cuts where taxes would otherwise have gone.
In the initial $900 billion in cuts, almost half will come from “security spending” (which includes defense, homeland security, veteran’s benefits, the State Department, etc). Defense is the big money there, and, according to the White House’s fact sheet, it will take a full $350 billion in cuts on its own. But the real hit comes in stage two: if the second round of deficit reduction isn’t signed into law, the “trigger” that will make automatic spending cuts absolutely savages defense spending.
Let’s stop there and talk about the trigger, as it’s arguably the most important part of the deal. In his remarks on Friday, President Obama said he would support a trigger if it was done in “a smart and balanced way.” The implication was that it had to include tax increases as well as spending cuts, as a trigger with just spending cuts wouldn’t force Republicans to negotiate in good faith. The trigger in this deal does not include tax increases.
What it includes instead are massive cuts to the defense budget. If Congress doesn’t pass a second round of deficit reduction, the trigger cuts $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Fully half of that comes from defense spending. And note that I didn’t say “security spending.” The Pentagon takes the full hit if the trigger goes off.
The other half of the trigger comes from domestic spending. But Social Security, Medicaid and a few other programs for the poor are exempted. So the trigger is effectively treating defense spending like it comprises more than half of all federal spending. If it goes off, the cuts to that sector will be tremendous -- particularly given that they will come on top of the initial round of cuts. Whether you think the trigger will work depends on whether you think the GOP would permit that level of cuts to defense.
Sounds like a lot of defense cuts to me.
Now don't get me wrong, I wish we weren't talking about cuts at all during a time of such economic worry. But I also get the confluence of events that made some form of cutting back almost impossible to avoid. Much as we all agree that Keynesian spending is the only sane response to the predicament we are in, our fellow countrymen and countrywomen disagreed with us and voted to install the current congress. And given the willingness to throw the country into a ditch in order to extort us all, some kind of a deal seemed likely.
With that in mind, I' understand the strong disappointment at seeing a deal without revenues included. As in the quote on that poster, it is not enough for the pentagon to need to have a bake sale to buy a bomber - the schools must also have all the money they need for it to be a truly great day. So perhaps this day is not great. Still, if cuts had to be made and revenues were impossible to include the little nascent progressive in me cannot help but think back to that poster and feel basically okay with the idea that defense cuts would be the balance we'd be settling for.