Something Versus Nothing

[ Posted Wednesday, March 8th, 2023 – 16:47 UTC ]

President Joe Biden is reportedly going to unveil his budget proposal tomorrow. Like any White House budget proposal, it will contain both some good ideas and some bad ideas, and it will be argued about by both sides of the political divide. Progressives will argue it doesn't contain enough of their agenda items, moderate Democrats will argue it contains too many progressive ideas, and the Republicans will try to demonize it as the worst idea anyone has had since the dawn of time. Also, like all presidential budgets, it will not pass Congress intact -- not by a long shot. The House and the Senate will want to pass their own budgets, and at most they'll co-opt a few ideas from Biden's budget while charting their own course on much of it. But politically, Democrats will have a window of time where they will be able to make a potent point: something is better than nothing.

House Republicans are full of newfound deficit hawkery, and they've already threatened to use the debt ceiling as leverage to get what they want. Their main problem, however, is that they have no real idea what it is that they want. They want, in a generalized sense, to slash government spending. This has been a conservative talking point for approximately forever. But while it is fun for them to blithely speak of balancing the federal budget in 10 years, actually accomplishing that means making some awfully tough decisions. And then publicly defending those decisions.

This isn't going to happen any time soon. The House Republicans are reportedly working on a budget blueprint, but they cannot agree among themselves what it should contain. They have already admitted that they won't be releasing their plan for at least another couple of months, and my guess is that their lax timeline is going to slip a lot further before they admit to the public just what it is they're demanding.

There's a good reason for this long delay. Republicans know full well that drastic cuts to federal programs are going to be extremely unpopular with a whole lot of people. Which is what Democrats need to be clearly saying after Biden's budget is released: "The Republicans won't even tell you what's in their budget because they know full well you are not going to like it!"

In his State Of The Union performance, Biden already masterfully rope-a-doped the Republicans into vocally supporting the idea that Social Security and Medicare shouldn't even be on the table in these discussions. Biden has already released his plan to improve Medicare by raising taxes on those making over $400,000 a year, in fact. But when you rope off Social Security and Medicare from any possible cuts, it makes it a lot harder to bring the deficit down elsewhere in the federal budget. It's also almost a certainty that Republicans won't be cutting the Pentagon budget either, which only adds to this problem.

Meaningfully reducing the federal budget without touching military spending or Social Security or Medicare means unbelievably drastic cuts elsewhere. We're not talking about shaving a couple of percentage points off programs -- the Republicans are going to have to use a meat cleaver on all sorts of things that the public doesn't want to see gutted. Which, again, is why they're going to wait as long as they think they can get away with it before they actually admit any of it to the public.

This should be the main argument both Biden and other Democrats make after the White House does release its budget proposal: "At least we are telling you what our priorities are -- the other side is scared to do so because they know you are not going to like their ideas."

The White House proposal is going to be Act I of the usual Kabuki theater surrounding the federal budget. This year's production is going to be fraught with a lot of danger, since Kevin McCarthy's speakership hangs by a very thin thread. If McCarthy doesn't appease the radical extremists in his caucus, they may very well vote him out -- a fact he is fully aware of. In normal times -- even with a divided Congress -- some sort of compromise is hashed out and pushed through at the last minute (or, more likely, "several months after the last minute has passed"). This is usually very begrudgingly done in a bipartisan fashion, with plenty of people voting against it. But McCarthy has been forced into making promises to his radicals to not even consider this route. If he shows any signs of doing so, they may vote him out. Instead of a budget battle in the House, what we may instead see is another fight over the speaker's chair -- and this one will be a lot more fractured than what McCarthy was forced to endure back in January.

McCarthy has to appease both the radicals who are going to attempt to slash federal programs by enormous amounts as well as swing-district Republicans who are already worried about their prospects of being re-elected in purple districts. This is the main reason why the Republicans are going to have a very hard time agreeing on any budget proposal. Even within their own ranks, they have people who know full well how unpopular some of the proposals floating around are going to be with the public.

The Republicans have zero credibility in calling for massive budget cuts, since they haven't uttered a deficit-cutting peep for years. This frenzy only takes hold of them when they control at least part of Congress and there is a Democrat in the White House, after all. There was no talk of budget-cutting when Donald Trump was in charge, which is another thing Democrats are going to be forcefully pointing out.

If inflation continues to fall and the rest of the American economy continues to do well, few people are going to see any pressing need to slash federal programs with enormous cuts. There simply is no impending emergency which would make such drastic actions necessary, no matter how much Republicans weep and wail.

Republicans are going to be striving to make the case that massive deficit reduction is absolutely crucial at this juncture, but this just isn't true. From all reports Biden's budget is going to have significant deficit reduction built into it already, but Republicans are shooting for much larger reductions.

For the next few months, all Biden has to say in response is: "I put my plan on the table. Where is yours?" Democrats need to absolutely taunt Republicans with the "put up or shut up" argument. Republicans are itching to take the debt ceiling hostage, but they can't agree among themselves what ransom they're even going to demand. All Democrats have to do is repeatedly point this out: "Where is your plan? What are you so scared of? Why won't you admit to the American people what you are planning on doing? You can complain about Biden's budget until you are blue in the face, but it's all meaningless until you admit what your budget is going to contain. Let the people know! Put your cards on the table!"

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


25 Comments on “Something Versus Nothing”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Something else Dems need to do whenever talking about the federal budget and all things economic and that is, wait for it, mention the Republican cult of economic failure, ad Bidenitum. Which, by the way, is a cult that far predates you know who. :)

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Scrapping the cap on social security may technically be "raising" taxes on people who make half a million and up. But the REASON it should be raised is that the richer you are, the lower percentage you pay. Multimillionaires pay a lower rate than the rest of us, and that's JUST NOT FAIR! Make them pay the same rate as the rest of us!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I've been waiting for somebody to talk about scrapping the cap on social security. I first learned about the idea here when Chris wrote about it a long while back.

    But, it seems to get as much traction as my favourite phrase in comment #1 above for some unfathomable reason ...

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    House Republicans are full of newfound deficit hawkery, and they've already threatened to use the debt ceiling as leverage to get what they want.

    What do you think they want? Whatever it is, it's not what the vast majority of the people want or they'd obviously be doing it.

    Their main problem, however, is that they have no real idea what it is that they want.

    Precisely because they don't pay attention to the vast majority of Americans, including/especially those they are elected to represent. You see the problem?

    They want, in a generalized sense, to slash government spending.

    If they actually wanted to do that, they really botched that royally in 2017-2018. :)

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:


    This year's production is going to be fraught with a lot of danger, since Kevin McCarthy's speakership hangs by a very thin thread.

    That very thin thread is wrapped around Empty G's finger, whose other hand is wrapped around you know who... a.k.a. the "short-fingered vulgarian."

  6. [6] 
    Kick wrote:

    Elizabeth Miller

    Something else Dems need to do whenever talking about the federal budget and all things economic and that is, wait for it, mention the Republican cult of economic failure, ad Bidenitum.

    I'd be lying if I said I didn't see that coming.

    Which, by the way, is a cult that far predates you know who.

    Give us a hint. ;)

  7. [7] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    Empty G. I like it! Thanks, Kick.

  8. [8] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    poet [2]

    As I understand, all employees pay the very same rate of SS tax on the amount of their income that IS taxed, but not all of high earners income is taxed.

    However, what actually is skewed is the amount of benefits. High earners do get higher benefits, but not in proportion to what they paid in.

    So in reality, THAT is what is "JUST NOT FAIR", right???

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    that's the same massive distortion your set has been selling for the last eighty years. if 100% of my income is taxed and 1% of your income is taxed, i'm paying 100 times the tax rate you are. If you pay twice as much money as me then my tax rate is only fifty times as much as yours. if there's going to be a cap on income taxes, then there should be a corresponding cap on income. you don't get to eat your cake and have it too.


  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Bottom line on the SS question is that high earners are subsidizing low earnerd within the program, but you believe they are not subsidizing them enough, right?

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Everyone subsidizes everyone else. That the wealthiest pay the lowest percentage of their earnings is not an opinion, it's a fact.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CRS, just whom do you think is subsidizing who(m). Heh.

    Now, did I get that grammar right or not? :)

  13. [13] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Sorry Liz, correct grammar would be 'Who' is subsidizing 'Whom'.

  14. [14] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    It is indeed true that "the wealthiest pay the lowest percentage of their earnings."

    But it's not true that "everybody is subsidizing everybody else". Perhaps you don't understand the concept/meaning of 'subsidization'?

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Are you sure about that whom/who thing in the context I put it?

    And, how would you define subsidizing?

  16. [16] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Wait a second! You're not a proponent/advocate of the Republican cult of economic failure, are you!?

  17. [17] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Yeah, I'm sure. My high-school English teacher neighbor told me once that she helps her students grasp the 'Who/Whom'thing by telling them when in doubt to substitute 'He/Him'in the phrase, and then it becomes clear, because the two combinations work on the same principle.

    "Subsidization" is simply the process of transferring income from the more productive to the less productive. Your poet buddy appears to miss the point that a smaller percentage of a larger total can easily be larger than the higher percentage of a much lower amount.

    High earners pay a smaller percentage, but a larger total, and they receive benefits that are less than in proportion to what they contribute, thereby 'subsidizing' the lower earners.

    And I don't even know what the "Cult ot economic failure" is, or whatit means.

  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm not sure I agree with you 100% on your definition of subsidizing, CRS.

    As for the 'Republican cult of economic failure' I love so much because it is accurate ... it's a phrase coined by David Fiderer in the context of the Bush II tax cuts to demonstrate what a failure those tax cuts and overall fiscal policy of the Bush II administration, in particular and previous Republican administrations in general, actually were.

    Today, the phrase is even more apt for current Republican tax and fiscal policies.

    Republican cult of economic failure

  19. [19] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Seems like you are both getting Social security wrong. We call it a tax but it is not the same thing, and the money is kept separate. Everyone gets proportionally what they put in to it but there is an upper level cap. So, if you make $150,000 (out of ass number, don't know the current cap) a year or 500 million a year, the check that comes when you retire is the same and the person making 500 million a year only pays up to the cap as any more would not add to the amount that comes back once retired. If you remove the cap, theoretically it should not add money to the system, just larger checks once rich boy retires. The "subsidizing" has more to do with borrowing and inflation than the rich paying for the poor. If the cap is removed but the upper end payment is not, then it is a fundamental change on how the SS system was set up. I'm not adverse to that but the left should be honest about what really is going on...

  20. [20] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    I'm certain that the people who are calling for removal of the cap are not even considering the possibility of having benefit amounts go up from current levels. That's the whole idea, collect more from higher earners, but use it to pay higher benefits of the low earners.

  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    In your world, there are two types of people - lesser productive low earners and more productive high earners.
    And, more importantly to your worldview, never the twain shall meet.

    In the reality-based space, however, that is not how our interdependent world works, not at the local level nor on the global scale.

  22. [22] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i'm fully aware that the wealthy pay more overall. that's just how most taxes are designed to work. the vast majority operate as a percentage - if you buy a candy bar your tax is eight cents, if you buy a car your tax is 1,600 dollars. there's no cap on THAT tax. how unfortunate that billionaires with a hundred fifty cars in their garage end up paying such high taxes to get them, while working poor who ride the bus only pay their fare. the buses are "subsidized" by taxing all those ferraris. how unfair to the wealthy who are so much more "productive" by giving some guy a job so he can take the bus to wash said ferraris, and "subsidizing" the bus to help him get there.

  23. [23] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Damn few working people ride the bus to work. In this country, working people drive a Toyota Camry (like mine) or a Chevy to work.

  24. [24] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm working people and I ride the bus to and from work. I'm just sayin'...

  25. [25] 
    Kick wrote:


    Empty G. I like it! Thanks, Kick.

    You're welcome. Use it liberally and everywhere.

    Whenever I hear someone say her initials, that's the sound they make... and it describes the deluded airhead perfectly.

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