Still just a vague slogan

January 12, 2011

Good catch last week by Pat Garofalo: House
Speaker John Boehner wants to cut government spending, but it's still difficult
to get him to name any programs that should be slashed. This was a theme during
the campaign and the lame duck session that followed; it remains true now that
he's taken over the House.

Here Boehner insists to Brian Williams that the defense budget
isn't sacred but then pivots to talking about how smart spending is better than
the wasteful kind. But first he declines to name any program that could simply
be axed--because he doesn't "have one off the top of [his] head":

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It's of course implausible that Boehner had lots of answers to
this question but couldn't come up with one on the spot because he neglected to
study his notes before going on TV. "Cut spending" has been his top talking
point for months, and he's got a pretty good-sized staff operation helping him
with details like "what do you mean by that?"

The real reason Boehner didn't answer the question is that he
doesn't have a good answer, because actually cutting spending is a lot harder
(and less popular) than saying, "Let's cut spending"--as I detailed in this
recent article in the Century (subscription required).



Amtrak Example

For example, it seems like it would make sense to stop subsidies to Amtrak. However, Amtrak owns the North East (rail) Corridor. The NEC accounts for about 50% of all rail/car/plane traffic between Boston and Washington, plus some freight traffic. Cut Amtrak out, and the NEC goes down, and the East Coast grinds to a gridlocked halt. It sounds easy, but their are incumbent realities behind current government spending.

Vagueness Epidemic

As vague as Boehner may have been, are we really suggesting all current government spending is fully justified? Aren't proponents of present spending levels being equally vague, hiding their thousands and millions behind the billions and trillions? There seems to be an epidemic of vague positions here. Perhaps a constructive path forward requires both sides to stop playing games and hiding their cards so much.

I'm not sure who's actively

I'm not sure who's actively advocating for precisely our current spending levels, but if they are that's not a vague position: current spending information is available, in great detail. The burden is on those advocating for changing things to be specific as to what they'd like to change things TO.

That said, I certainly agree that there needs to be more specific information about spending and options more readily available to more people. That's why, in the article I linked to from this post, I'm advocating for an itemized income-tax receipt.