“Knock if off. I said no such thing.”
That’s what Gov. Howard Dean Tweeted to me last night after I (rather rudely, I’ll admit) suggested that the former MD was more concerned about defense cuts than the plight of America’s poor.
Except the problem is, that’s exactly what Gov. Dean said.
The source of my frustration with Dean was this article by Sam Stein on Huffington Post about the “sequestered” budget cuts that will occur automatically if the President and Congress don’t reach a deal in the next couple of weeks. In his article, Stein quotes the former DNC Chair thusly:
“We should let it happen,” Dean said of $1 trillion in domestic, defense and Medicare spending cuts set to be triggered on March 1. “I’m in favor of the sequester. It is tough on things that I care about a lot, but the fact of the matter is, you are not going to get another chance to cut the defense budget in the way that it needs to be cut.”
In other words, Gov. Dean said that cutting defense spending is more important than saving “things that [he] care[s] about a lot,” like Medicare and other domestic programs that will be cut, too, if the sequestration goes forward.
Here’s what Think Progress says about the impact of those cuts:
Federal spending is scheduled to reach historic lows thanks to the Budget Control Act, which placed caps on spending as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. Non-defense spending is already 14 percent lower than it has been at any time in the last half-century, and it could go even lower if the so-called “sequester,” a series of automatic budget cuts that will begin to take effect at the beginning of March, is allowed to occur.
The drop in domestic spending has already devastated many programs on which Americans depend. But on March 1, those cuts will get even deeper when the first $85 billion of sequester cuts take effect.
That will have a substantial impact on food safety, education, law enforcement, and safety net programs, according to estimates from Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee. And if the sequester is left in place for the full year, it will cut $1.5 trillion and those effects will only get worse …
And it’s not just the poor and those directly dependent on federal spending that would suffer. As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently wrote:
The key point is this: While it’s true that we will eventually need some combination of revenue increases and spending cuts to rein in the growth of U.S. government debt, now is very much not the time to act. Given the state we’re in, it would be irresponsible and destructive not to kick that can down the road.
Start with a basic point: Slashing government spending destroys jobs and causes the economy to shrink.
This really isn’t a debatable proposition at this point. The contractionary effects of fiscal austerity have been demonstrated by study after study and overwhelmingly confirmed by recent experience [in Europe] … .
Still, won’t spending cuts (or tax increases) cost jobs whenever they take place, so we might as well bite the bullet now? The answer is no — given the state of our economy, this is a uniquely bad time for austerity.
You should read the whole Krugman piece, by the way. He’s an actual expert in economics, whereas Governor/Doctor Dean is not.
Anyway, the bottom line is this. Howard Dean is a well-healed individual who won’t pay the price for the automatic cuts in domestic spending, if and when they occur. I’m not a well-healed individual, and there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you’re not either. So it’s easy for Gov. Dean to say, “Let them eat defense cuts”; he doesn’t have to worry about keeping a roof over his kids’ heads.
But it’s more than that. Howard Dean bears some responsibility for the state of affairs in Washington these days. As DNC Chair, Dean was the chief architect of the Democrats’ “fifty-state strategy” that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, secured a Democratic majority in the Senate that year, and, temporarily, at least, preserved the party’s majority in the House. In order to do that, however, the party was forced to run a number of conservative candidates in traditionally “red” states. And so we got Democratic majorities that included significant numbers of “blue dogs” in both houses.
In practical terms, Dean’s approach made sense. It’s better to have right-leaning Democrats than far-right Republicans in districts where liberals have no meaningful chance of getting elected in the first place. The recent Senate vote on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act confirms that: Not a single Democrat voted against the legislation, while 22 Republicans did.
Nonetheless, conservative Democrats in both houses of Congress stymied many of the President’s most important legislative initiatives from the beginning of his first term in office. Recall that the Senate voted 90-6 to deny Pres. Obama the funds he requested to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp only four months after his first inauguration. And we all know what happened with healthcare reform: We ended up without a public option, and yet conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives still nearly tanked the bill over abortion. You can blame the President all you want for the lack of a public option, but he was stuck dealing with Congress as it existed in 2009 and 2010 – a Congress Howard Dean helped to create. Yet it was Dean who infamously said “kill the bill” because it wasn’t quite good enough.
Dean was wrong on the healthcare bill. Had we taken his advice, we may never have had the opportunity to pass healthcare reform again. The 2010 midterm elections were a disaster for Democrats, who lost their majority in the House altogether and saw their majority in the Senate decrease to 53 seats, well short of the 60 needed to stop filibusters. Without the healthcare law that was passed, as imperfect as it may have been, we wouldn’t have certain basic protections like those for preexisting conditions – no small thing, unless you’re rich and you really don’t have to worry about paying for health insurance. But that was a risk Howard Dean was willing to take.
So here we are again. The President’s stuck negotiating with a recalcitrant Congress in order to reach a deal to avert the sequestered budget cuts, unless he and Congress take Paul Krugman’s suggestion and punt. But Dean thinks it’s okay to let the automatic cuts go into effect even though they will cause real pain and suffering.
I think cutting the Pentagon is the good thing to do. I don’t think we’re going to get another chance. If you want to put this off for six months, yeah okay. But I don’t want to miss this chance. We already missed our chance before.
Really. That’s it. That’s his sole rationale for letting another recession occur. Cut the defense budget because we can, even if it means we screw the poor and the middle class at the same time.
Howard Dean is a guy for whom polemics seem to matter more than policy, but for those of us who have to live with the real-life consequences of what happens (or doesn’t happen) in Washington, it’s never that easy.
So, no, Governor/Doctor Dean. I won’t “knock it off.” Instead, I’ll invite you to take a damn seat.