I'm at the Peterson Foundation's Fiscal Summit today, and one of the big themes is "everything on the table." As part of that, Rep. Paul Ryan got asked about defense spending. "There are a lot of savings you can get in defense," he said. "There's a lot of waste over there, for sure."It's very kind of Representative Ryan to make these sort of statements. But what happens when the rubber meets the road? Will Ryan vote to reduce the armed forces personnel by tens of thousands? Would he accept cuts to weapons systems that have parts manufacturers in his district? If he will, that's great, and he should say so. If not, this is just another exercise in centrist intellectual masturbation. And I should point out that this sort of pointless deficit hand-wringing isn't limited to Republicans; various Third Way proposals for Social Security reform are equally dead-on-arrival in Congress.
Until people like Paul Ryan are willing to create a faction of wonkish members of Congress ready to stand up to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner's do-nothing-all-the-time legislative strategy, there just aren't enough votes to form center-out coalitions consistently. So we will end up with left-in coalitions for the time being.
I'm inclined towards the glass-half-full view of this one. I'd like it to become part of conventional wisdom that the defense budget has plenty of cuttable stuff, and this seems to help.
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