Nancy Pelosi is completely on message with Chuck Schumer in response to the House GOP’s FY2011 budget plan: acknowledging the need for “fiscal discipline” while attacking the specific cuts in the plan:

“Democrats are committed to fiscal discipline, starting with an aggressive attack on waste, fraud, and abuse in our federal budget, and we will work with Republicans to meet our goals. But we will not do so at the expense of good jobs, a strong middle class, and a growing economy.

“The Republican plan will cost jobs, undercut American innovation and clean energy, jeopardize our safety by taking cops off the street, and threaten investments in rebuilding America – at a time when our economy can least afford it.”

Right, but the “at a time when our economy can least afford it” would have more impact if you bothered to explain why the economy can least afford it now, and in fact why the deficit is not the near-term problem (you can argue it’s a near-term solution, in fact, by creating at least some aggregate demand). I don’t agree with all of Matt Yglesias’ take, but at least he’s recognizing not only the danger of the Republican cuts but the unnecessary nature of them.

Any year is a great year in which to cut low-hanging fruit. By why cut the non-low hanging portion of the budget? There could be good reasons. Maybe we need to sacrifice in order to build more tanks to beat the Nazis. But that’s not happening. Or maybe high interest rates are crowding out private sector investment. But that’s not happening. Or maybe monetary actions necessary to keep interest rates low are leading to ruinous inflation. But that’s not happening either. So why make program cuts that have real negative impact in every district across the country? Shooting ourselves in the foot in 2011 doesn’t make it easier to afford Medicare in 2020, it means we’ll have more injured feet.

This is what I don’t hear from Democrats. They instead acknowledge cuts first, to prove they care about fiscal responsibility too, and then add that the cuts should be better applied. Matt’s doing a little of that too, but the emphasis on the Congressional Dem argument is different. It doesn’t say that at a time of economic stress, with at least 14.5 million Americans out of work, demand cannot be shrunk even further, for this would have catastrophic effects on the public and private job markets.

Instead, you have three positions in Congress: Democrats, who want cuts but intelligent cuts; Republicans, who want to slash and burn, with a plan that would “that would wipe out family planning programs, take 4,500 cops off the street and slice 10 percent from a food program that aids pregnant women and their babies,” and then other Republicans, who want to do all that and more. Cutting the EPA budget by 17% and the Office of Science by 20% and defunding high speed rail and canceling AmeriCorps isn’t enough. The Republican Study Committee wants to hold to the $100 billion pledge from the campaign days, rather than the $32 billion net cut proposed by the leadership. And they plan to offer an amendment to that effect when the bill hits the floor next week.

So you have House Appropriations Committee chair Hal Rogers simultaneously saying that the cuts are “larger than the GDP of 126 countries,” and also in the middle relative to the whole of Congress. And there isn’t a strong vision on the Democratic side demanding that we not kick out the legs of recovery. Certainly not from the White House, which is busy readying a FY 2012 budget that cuts LIHEAP by $3 billion.

I’m thinking all this “turmoil” in the GOP is actually having a salutary effect of making these insane cuts look reasonable.

David Dayen

David Dayen