The Long March: the 30 year strategy to starve the beast

The Long March

by digby

Lawrence O'Donnell had a good segment last night about how the Republicans have used the "Starve the Beast" strategy to build up deficits and make tax increases impossible.

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... And that is why, in this, the first 21st century round of the deficit reduction game in Washington, the Republicans have already won. Ronald Reagan never dreamed the Republicans could initiate a debate and actually vote on a bill that dismantles Medicare, and be applauded as serious for doing so. The political question is no longer how much will we cut Medicare, the political question now is will we dismantle Medicare? Will we repeal it?

It was a little over a year ago that Democrats passed the single biggest expansion of Medicaid in its history as part of a health care reform bill that increased health care spending for the population that is not eligible for Medicare. And now the Democrats health care fight is about whether they can keep Medicare alive, the most popular health care program the government has ever run.

Can Democrats even keep it alive? No Democrat thought they were ever, ever going to have to fight that fight. Not until this year did democrats notice how well the starve the beast strategy was working. Many of them did not realize how much they had participated in it themselves, some who voted for the Bush tax cuts, the single most effective starve the beast vote ever cast are now fighting to save Medicare. Their vote to starve the beast under George W. Bush was easy. But they have by now discovered that saving Medicare will not be so easy.

I don't know who the Democrats who voted for the Bush tax cuts and are now fighting to save Medicare are, but I have my doubts about the latter. I think those who voted for the Bush tax cuts are either standard corporate lackeys or political hacks who don't care one way or the other about government programs, they just wear the blue jersey because it's convenient. At this point we have to count on sheer political opportunism to make the Democrats fight to save Medicare --- Ryan handed them a potent weapon if they choose to use it.

But the rest of O'Donnell's piece is correct and it's worth listening to his recitation of the historical moments leading up to this to understand exactly how their plan worked. These deficits grew because the Republicans and their Democratic enablers cut taxes and destroyed the economy. Now they finally have their moment to enact their long sought spending cuts. Making Democrats do their dirty work for them is just frosting on the cake.

I don't think taxes have to be off the table. Bush Sr raised them in 1990 and Bill Clinton raised them in 1993. But it's hard and it will take a piece of political hide out of the President and congress that does it. I had expected that the newly elected Democratic president with his historic mandate and Democratic congress would have immediately taken action to ensure that the tax cuts for the wealthy under Bush would expire. That could have been fairly easily done by extending the middle class tax cuts under the Stimulus Plan. (It didn't happen, I suspect, because there were delusions of a Grand Bargain.)

At any rate, he's right that the current problem is the result of 30 years of relentless, demagogic, anti-tax rhetoric. You can call them crazy if you want but this has to be one of the most successful, long term conservative movement projects in history. Of course, head anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is the guy who greatly admired Lenin's tactics, (as did the CATO and Heritage institutes) so they understood exactly what it was going to take.