“To the victor go the spoils.” — Dick Armey

In this case, the Republicans are the victor, and the spoils are in the President’s “austerity” budget, which will slash and burn over 150 programs while still making the deficit worse. Spoils you say? Remember: the voters said that punishing people for being poor is just standing for good old Christian values. At least, that’s what somebody in the White House seems to think the voters said.
Of course– simply freezing spending for one year and reversing the President’s tax cuts— in their entirety– as Howard Dean proposed (and was duly attacked and ridiculed by John Kerry, among others)– would reduce the structural federal budget deficit from around 3-4% of GDP to between 1-2% of GDP in two years, more than meeting the President’s purported goal of halving the deficit in four years. The Democrats could get behind this, but they would have to be as honest (and hence craaaaazzzzzyyyy) as Howard Dean, i.e., more honest than John Kerry, and take back the (bogus and illusory) “middle class tax cuts” too.
The other thing to note is that the President is proposing cuts in only 2/5 of the federal budget pie, while affirmatively doing everything in his power to make 2/5 worse; I suppose his plans to destroy the other 1/5 have to be graded neutral, but they will make 1/5 so much worse, as to not be funny. What in God’s name am I talking about?
This: Of the $2.5 trillion federal budget (as usual, around 22% or so of GDP, give or take), roughly 20% covers social security transfer payments (pensions and survivor/disability benefits), 20% covers medicare/medicaid, 20% covers interest on our national debt, 20% covers defense (including “homeland security”) and 20% covers everything else, from education to courts to roads to Amtrak to farm subsidies to the National Weather Service. EVERYTHING. ELSE. So-called discretionary spending is only 20% of the federal budget. Thanks to the accelerating effect of the back-loaded (and therefore, NOT STIMULATIVE) Bush tax cuts, our current deficit exceeds all discretionary spending: all of it.
Interest on the national debt is, of course, the only part that is unassailable, as defaulting on it ends the “borrow and spend” game immediately. Defense spending could be slashed and burned, with a probable improvement in our actual security (we built dozens of planes during World War II for less than the cost of one these days in real dollars, for example), but I expect no member of Congress to want to give away the single most important source of pork-barrel spending there is (or the Bush family friends ability to steal from the taxpayers by the billion). Social security is complicated (though simply changing the cost of living adjustment (“COLA”) to adjust from the inflation in prices rather than in wages will, as a historical matter, make social security solvent more or less forever, pretty much by itself. The problem here, as you might imagine, is Democrats who would scream that this was “killing old people”, even though, of course, it would assure them of pensions forever, albeit not quite as generous at the expense of working people.) Medicare/medicaid is actually complicated– too much so for this little snippet. And everything else is… well, everything else. Again– “discretionary”, but think passports, national parks, air traffic controllers, postmen, courthouses… all other federal services: only so much you can do here– devastating 20% cuts in this area would be felt significantly, though only lower the total budget around 4% or so.
Which leaves taxation as the only thing we really can control, to deal with the deficit, at least in the near and intermediate (and long) term.
Well, I’ve made it easy here for any smart Democrat to step up and offer a statesmanlike solution to the financial disaster we are headed for (which, for those wondering, involves a significant increase in the debt service portion of the budget exacerbated by higher interest rates and lower tax revenues). Or any principled Republican is free to step up.
Sometimes, I feel a little like Diogenes…