James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Friday File: The GOP Debate Meets Budget Math

by James M. Lindsay
August 12, 2011

A farm in the town of Winthrop, Iowa. (Jessica Rinaldi/courtesy Reuters)

Winthrop, Iowa. (Jessica Rinaldi/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Foreign policy took a back seat to Obama bashing and internal GOP sniping in last night’s Republican presidential debate. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul debated the wisdom of foreign interventions, but the candidates were largely spared tough foreign policy questions. Perhaps the most telling moment of the debate came when all eight candidates said they would reject a deal that would cut federal spending by $10 for every $1 in tax increases. Alas, Fox News’ Brett Baier did not ask the obvious follow up to his original question: what programs would the candidates cut? The budget math on this score is unsparing. The annual federal budget deficit is roughly $1.5 trillion dollars. Ending every single domestic discretionary program would still leave the United States nearly $1 trillion in the red. Why? Because entitlements, national security spending, and interest on the national debt account for more than 80 percent of all federal spending. Washington obviously isn’t going to kill every domestic discretionary program, which means even deeper cuts for the rest of the budget. Those cuts would be deeply unpopular (entitlements) or potentially dangerous (defense), meaning they might not happen. So the candidates are neither preparing voters for what they intend to do or leaving themselves much wiggle room should one of them succeed in reaching the White House.

CFR Event of the Week. More than 2,000 people have died in the unrest in Syria. Pressure is growing on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down, but he shows no signs of obliging his critics. In a conference call with reporters earlier this month, my colleagues Elliott Abrams and Rob Danin discussed the rising violence in Syria and how the United States might respond. You can read the transcript or download the audio to go.

Read of the Week. Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of Michele Bachmann has been the talk of Washington this week. The piece does not examine Bachmann’s foreign policy views. It does, however, review the intellectual influences on her overall thinking. Bachmann is almost certain to do well in tomorrow’s Ames Straw Poll, which should give her campaign a big boost. And that means greater media scrutiny of her positions.

Blog Post of the Week. The Washington Post’s acclaimed diplomatic reporter Glenn Kessler, author of The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, has turned his reportorial talents to writing “The Fact Checker” blog. This morning he evaluates the accuracy of what the GOP candidates had to say last night. Not surprisingly, he finds that at times candidates revised their past positions—Jon Huntsman criticized the Obama stimulus plan back in 2009 for spending too little on infrastructure and not for cutting taxes too little. And they said things that were flat out wrong—the United States is not “bankrupt” as Ron Paul claimed. Campaign 2012 will see both political parties leveling lots of claims and counterclaims. “The Fact Checker” will help you sort out fact from fiction. So bookmark it.

Poll Question of the Week. Gallup asked Americans whether the bipartisan “super committee” formed to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget should compromise even if that means producing a deal that they might personally dislike. Six in ten Americans say they favor compromise. That was the majority sentiment among Democrats (67 percent), Independents (57 percent), and Republicans (55 percent). However, a majority of Tea Party supporters (53 percent) reject the idea of compromise—they prefer no deal at all to a deal they dislike. Although Tea Party supporters are a minority of Americans, they constitute a vocal voting bloc within the GOP. Which is one reason why we might head into 2012 without bipartisan agreement on a deal to put America’s fiscal house back in order.

Chart of the Week. Not depressed yet by all the bad economic news coming out this week? Check out the chart below on the change in the relative share of the world economy generated by emerging countries compared to developed countries. What was the song that Bob Dylan sang? “A Change Is Gonna Come.” We talk a lot about how globalization is remaking the world. Is Washington prepared to adapt to a new world? Or will we just rail against it?

Source: The Economist.

Too Good Not to Note. Steven Cook talks about the impact 9/11 had on U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Micah Zenko calculates what military operations in Libya are costing the American taxpayer. Peter Singer offers up ten rules for how to cut the defense budget without endangering U.S. national security. Larry Korb, Sam Klug, and Alex Rothman survey four different bipartisan plans for cutting defense spending. Barry Eichengreen speculates about what might replace the U.S. dollar as a global reserve asset. Dan Drezner embraces the pessimism of the moment and decides to raise it by speculating that we are reliving 1931. Dani Rodrik argues that countries ignore the health of their manufacturing sectors at their peril. Charles Kenny looks for the bright side in a possible decline of American power. Slate.com’s David Weigel follows Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in Iowa. Aaron Blake explains the Ames Straw Poll for the uninitiated.

Perils of Prediction. “It’ll be a squeaker, but Gov. Charlie Crist will become Florida’s next senator.” Newsweek, “Our Political Predictions for 2010.” No matter how closely you look at the roster of the U.S. Senate, there is no Senator Crist. He lost to Marco Rubio by nineteen percentage points.

Quote to Ponder. “Politics, n.: Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

A Reason to Smile. The annual Perseid meteor shower.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by gailminor

    Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is the only plausible candidate — Republican or Democrat — for those of us Americans who oppose the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and the military involvements in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia http://bit.ly/o1ggeV

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