Of course by now you know that the government did not shut down last weekend. A last minute deal kept it running long enough for a new budget deal to be voted on this week. Democrats gave up a little more in spending cuts and Republicans had to live with the fact that they didn’t succeed in using the budget as a mechanism to change public policy. Their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood were mostly unsuccessful and many Tea Party Republicans are angry enough to say they won’t vote for the final bill. Speaker Boehner had claimed that he would not pass a budget that could not get the support of 218 Republicans, but now it looks like he will need to rely on the votes of some Democrats as well. For the moment, the American public applauds the compromise.
What will happen when the same dynamics (Republicans trying to leverage their control in one House into the enactment of a conservative agenda via defunding health care, Planned Parenthood, NPR and the EPA) in the upcoming effort to raise the debt ceiling? What are the costs to using the budget and our ability to cover our bills as a bargaining tool?
And on the continuing theme of $$$, the reactions to Congressman Ryan’s budget proposal continue to flow in. Here is a conservative column praising it and here is a liberal one criticizing it. Ryan proposed a budget that claims to reduce the deficit by lowering taxes for wealthy Americans, privatizing Medicare and transforming Medicaid into a block grant program, among other things. It’s been hailed as “courageous” for daring to cut Medicare benefits, the health care program for Americans over 65, since older people are committed voters eager to protect policies such as Medicare and Social Security that benefit them. President Obama will offer an alternative budget proposal emphasizing tax increases for the wealthy as well as budget cuts, but cuts done so as to preserve programs like Medicare.
What is at stake in all these budget wars is the view of what government can and should be. Should we have a largely procedural system that relies on the economic market to distribute resources and lets individuals take their chances? Or should government provide some basic guarantees (access to health care, economic security for the elderly) to protect citizens against market failures? The debate about hits is going to rev up in the coming days and will likely be a major theme in the 2012 election. Stay tuned – it is a debate that will have major consequences for your own lives as well as that of your parents and grandparents.