Sequestration and the “Post-Policy” GOP

Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas write:

Republicans wanted entitlement cuts. They’re not getting them. They wanted to protect defense spending. Instead, the Pentagon is getting gutted while Medicare and Social Security are left mostly untouched. They had an eye toward tax reform. Nuh-uh.

That is, keeping sequestration in place is, they write, lose-lose when it comes to policy.

Which would be absolutely true if Republicans really did want entitlement cuts, defense spending, tax reform, or, as they go on to discuss, long-term deficit reduction.

If, however, we take the “post-policy” idea seriously, then it’s a little easier to understand. Republicans, for example, are rhetorically in favor of “entitlement” cuts, but they have opposed actual Medicare cuts and some of them opposed Barack Obama’s chained-CPI proposal, too. Those post-policy Republicans are happy to bash “entitlements,” but what they’re for? It appears that what they’re for is for Democrats to propose cuts in Medicare and Social Security that they can then oppose.

Granted: clearly some Republicans want (for example) higher defense spending, including both Republican politicians and GOP-aligned interest groups. But in the aggregate, it’s really not clear that “Republicans” care very much about any of these things other than as excuses for rhetoric positioning. In that sense, Republicans may be less in favor of defense spending than they are in favor of being able to claim that Obama cut defense spending, and then having an excuse to blame any particular national security outcome on those defense cuts.

I’m not sure one can prove this one way or another, but it sure seems to me that the post-policy idea works really well at explaining what we’re seeing.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.