How Republicans Intend to Win in 2010 and 2012
Correction: The section of this article relating to pay-go legislation was incorrect. It has been corrected. My apologies for the error. – Ian
Yesterdays events, where House Republicans all voted against the stimulus bill, after getting a couple key concessions should tell us a lot about Republican strategy for the next elections.
The larger picture includes not just Republicans but Blue Dogs, who only allowed the stimulus bill to pass after Obama told them he would follow pay-go rules going forward, meaning that all new expenditures and tax cuts must be matched either by cuts in spending or raised taxes. Obama has also indicated he intends to deal with entitlement reform, which means changes to Medicare and Social Security to make them more financially viable (for the record, Social Security will be fully solvent for at least 30 years, and anyone who tells you it’s in a crisis is lying to you. Medicare, on the other hand, has real problems.)
Given these three facts, here’s what I think Republican strategists are thinking:
The House Republicans voted against the stimulus because they don’t want the Kerry problem of having voted for something they then have to oppose in an election. (Remember Kerry’s problems with having voted for the Iraq war?) The calculus is simple: if Democrats manage to get the economy going again, Republicans are sunk anyway. A good economy means Democratic wins in 2010 and 2012, barring some sort of foreign policy fiasco like the hostage crisis.
In the Senate, a few moderate Republicans will vote for the stimulus bill, allowing it to pass, after having wrung out as many concessions as possible to weaken it and make it less likely to work. The majority will vote against it. Republicans will be able to say that as a party, they were against the stimulus bill. Whether that’s popular now or not is irrelevant, there isn’t another election for 2 years.
Next up will be pay-go legislation, as payoff for the Blue Dogs. That will likely cripple the ability to do another stimulus bill next year, meaning that if this stimulus bill isn’t enough by itself (and odds are pretty decent it won’t be), the government’s hands will be tied. Another really large stimulus will not be possible. (Correction: pay-go legislation was already passed, but it didn’t include emergency measures. Obama indicated to the Blue Dogs that once this emergency measure was done he’d start following pay-go more carefully. My apologies for the error).
Then comes "entitlement reform". Unless this is done by increasing payroll taxes on the wealthy (ie. removing the cap at which one stops paying more payroll taxes) this will mean either reduced benefits, or more likely that people will not be able to get their benefits until they are older than 67 (corrected age from 65 – Ian). Medicare, which is in real trouble, may have to be slashed significantly to make it "long term viable". (The real way to make medicare long term viable, for the record, is to make it universal. Increased taxes would be more than offset by companies and individuals no longer having to pay insurance premiums).
Republicans will, again, mostly vote against it. Sure, they favor entitlement reform, but it’s a third rail. Why not let Democrats hurt old folks. Old folks who, well, vote religiously?
At this point, with the government’s hands tied when it comes to doing more stimulus and with unpopular entitlement reform having been passed mostly by Democrats, the future looks pretty bright for the Republicans. The economy will probably suck in 2010 and 2012 and the most important voting block, old folks, will be angry with Democrats.
The future’s gonna be so bright, Republicans will have to wear shades at night.