Friday, November 29, 2013

What If the Republican Party Had Policy Initiatives to Offer?

I think things might be different. There would be a path to compromise. So agrees the Political Animal today (quoting Jonathan Bernstein):
The way these things happen when both parties are healthy is that the popular, high-priority policy preferences of one party are bundled with the popular, high-priority policy preferences of the other. However, what exactly do Republicans have that they need to pass and that Democrats could accept? The Republican policy cupboard is pretty much empty. There are some wild demands (balanced budgets, repealing Obamacare) that Democrats wouldn’t go along with for any price — ideas that wouldn’t really work anyway. Other than those, there’s just very little. I suppose Democrats could trade a solid increase in the minimum wage for cuts in food stamps, but it’s not clear that would be a deal liberals could support — and at any rate, it’s hardly a popular Republican demand, meaning that Democrats would be tempted to just run on the issue rather than accepting what they could get.
Bernstein calls today's Republicans "post-policy." An apt term, that. What are the Republicans for?
  • Cut spending, except on law enforcement, homeland security, and defense. Related to this is the Republican preference for war over diplomacy, which isn't cheap, by the way.
  • Cut taxes, while supporting oil and farm subsidies. Drill, baby, drill. Also, ethanol subsidies, even though the program has been a bust. Ethanol from corn costs more than gasoline to produce, actually has a high carbon footprint, and raises food prices (meat and dairy, corn products). But, uh, corn producers love it (higher demand and prices for corn).
  • Balanced budgets. Great, how are you going to do that without cutting our biggest expenditures like defense? Well, we could always cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Meals on Wheels, WIC, and so forth.
  • Paul Ryan is pushing an initiative to fight poverty. Good for him. Is there a role for government? No, that would cost money. He wants to solve poverty with increased volunteerism. Great. Maybe we could all collect one extra can of green beans. That should do it.
  • We could adopt the Republican plan for healthcare. Wait. We already did. It's called Obamacare. Now the Republicans hate their own plan. What's their alternative? Letting insurance companies sell their products across state lines and, oh yeah, cracking down on medical malpractice lawsuits. Boy, that'll drive costs down.
Republicans have no new policy ideas, except voter ID laws and forced ultrasounds on women who want abortions.

Who votes for these people? Counter-intuitively, it's people who believe in limited government. But Republican initiatives cost money and intrude on people's lives. The Democratic Party does not want to force medical procedures on women or intrude into everyone's bedrooms or limit their choices for birth control. Republicans do. What's so limited-government about that? Defense costs a boatload of money. What's so limited-government about that? Republicans want to ban public unions (except police, fire, and corrections!). What's so limited-government about that?

You get the point. Democrats want to legislate ways to feed people and provide healthcare. Republicans want to legislate morality without confronting the moral implications of their policy choices that increase poverty and hunger in America.

To be fair, they do address those moral implications, by changing words. Poor people, in their lexicon, are "lazy people." And hungry people are people who like hammocks.

"Have these people ever thought about maybe getting a job?"

With this kind of talk, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, his only victory. Its key point was jobs for lazy black people, not food stamps. Whether you agree with him or not -- or Rush Limbaugh, for that matter -- it's clear that the pair of them represent mainstream Republican views on the issue.

And here's the thing: They have no actual policy prescription, only the notion that poor people should be working. Actually, they are. At Walmart, McDonald's, Olive Garden, and Chic Fil A. And they're still on food stamps.

Would a higher minimum wage reduce the amount of food stamp recipients. As a noted political philosopher once said, you betcha! Will the Republicans support a minimum wage increase. No! That's a job killer.


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