Fantasies and Realities

It’s interesting that in the course of a column criticizing Paul Ryan (with whom he is angry for voting against the Bowles-Simpson commission report) for pursuing the “political fantasy” of his revolutionary budget, David Brooks projects his own fantasy that Republicans would not be able to enact Ryan’s budget “without such overwhelming Congressional majorities that they would be able to push through measures Democrats hate.”

Why is that, David? Have you heard of “reconciliation,” which makes budget-related legislation enactable by a simple majority in both Houses with no opportunity for a filibuster? Yes, there are some issues with using reconciliation to enact a package of measures that would actually increase rather than reduce budget deficits, but that certainly did not stop Republicans with a wisp of a majority from using reconciliation to enact the Bush tax cuts a decade ago. And yes, it’s possible someone like Scott Brown, who has disclaimed support for the Medicare provisions of the Ryan Budget, could gum up the works. But it’s equally possible the GOP will get to 50 Senate seats without Brown or anyone else who is willing to defy “the base,” every conservative commentator in the wide world of sports, and what will be described, if Republicans win this election, as a “popular mandate.”

Now Brooks may be right that in the long run such an audacious series of steps by Republicans in 2013 would produce a popular backlash that could eventually threaten to undo the Ryan “reforms” of domestic governance and the tax code. But I don’t think Ryan and most of his GOP colleagues are terribly interested in playing a “long game” at this point. They are already in long-term trouble thanks to deeply unfavorable demographic trends. Wrecking the New Deal and Great Society legacy (and perhaps consummating a constitutional counter-revolution via court appointments) would redeem the conservative movement’s fondest hopes and dreams dating all the way back to the “premature” Goldwater candidacy of 1964. So what if it’s risky? So what if progressives can eventually climb out of the rubble and try to rebuild a social safety net and a progressive tax code? Such concerns are not about to turn a single Republican vote in Congress against a headlong plunge into Happyland.

That’s the cold hard reality, best I can tell. Paul Ryan may not be “serious” about reducing long-range budget deficits or any of the other big visionary goals his fans right and center ascribe to him. But he’s deadly serious about unraveling what he considers to be the “liberal welfare state” and freeing Galtian “job creators” from taxes, and his plan for doing so is entirely realistic if Republicans gain united control of the federal government in November.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.