Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Great Spending Showdown, The Never-Starting 2012 Presidential Race, Freedom in Egypt

Note: My apologies for lack of recent posting activity. I have been very busy with my real job and the political news has been very slow. I intend to post more frequently, hopefully at least once per week, until the Presidential campaign really picks up, at which point my posts should come fast and furious.

Mark Your Calendar for March 4th
The pending battle over government spending was preordained in the lame duck session of Congress late last year, when a temporary continuing resolution, which kept the government funded through March 4th was passed instead of a full budget. The Senate GOP wanted this battle - they wanted the coming House GOP majority and enhanced minority in the Senate to have a crack at the budget rather than simply allowing Democrats to pass one more budget before the incoming congressional class made it to town.

Couple this budgetary showdown with the looming fact that the federal government will hit its legal borrowing limit, possibly sometime in April, and will require a raising of the debt ceiling to continue operating, and you have quite a philosophical showdown on your hands.

What all of this sets up is an interesting showdown of sorts. The GOP had pledged to cut $100B from the federal budget in year one, a Herculian task if you take entitlements and defense spending out of the mix, two areas that are almost sure not to be touched in the next three weeks. After initially waffling on the pledge, the GOP has proposed bold cuts to the budget that slash deep, including major cuts in federal education funding, assistance to the poor, agriculture subsidies and a whole host of other things. President Obama, for his own part, seems surprisingly receptive to major cuts in the federal budget. My suspicion is that the House GOP will get most of what they really want. Why? The control the purse strings. President Obama can't spend a dollar that the GOP House doesn't authorize. That's what shared accountability is.

My perspective on this is that while it is encouraging to see focus on reducing the deficit beyond campaign season, the cuts being discussed now are a very small baby step. Consider this -- the tax cuts just extended by Congress and the President cost over 4 times annually the maximum amount that is being discussed as on the table for spending cuts. I don't question the opportunity to reduce domestic discretionary spending, It's just that the very painful cuts that are being proposed solve less than 1/15th of the federal budget deficit. The real money is in tax reform (read tax increases or minimally repealing the Bush/Obama tax cuts), defense spending (read reduction of foreign operations and military weaponry) and entitlements (read Medicare and Social Security.) I'm okay with this as an opening salvo, but the political community better get to the heart of the issue after this year's budget is established.

President Obama missed a big opportunity in his State of the Union speech by not embracing the proposal of the deficit reduction commission that he pushed for. They came back with substantial ideas that, while they may not be perfect, were a very good first cut at significantly reducing the deficit. But their proposal is being allowed to wither on the vine and it is likely nothing will come of it. What a shame.

When Will 2012 Start?
The nation's largest gathering of conservatives, the CPAC convention is just wrapping up and it strikes me, as straw polls are held (Ron Paul, whose energetic supporters devote a lot of energy to winning symbolic straw polls, was the winner again, followed by Mitt Romney), that this cycle's Presidential campaign is off to a VERY slow start.

In 2007 (the correlated year in last cycle to 2011), then-Senator Barack Obama declared his candidacy on February 10th. It is now February 13th and there is not a single declared GOP candidate. We don't really Newt Gingrich in? Is John Huntsman's resignation as ambassador to China a precursor to a Presidential bid? And what in the world will Sarah Palin do?

It's that last question -- the intention of the former Alaska Governor, that probably accounts for a large measure of the uncertainty. Whether Palin runs or not dramatically changes the field, given her passionate group of hardcore conservative supporters. If she gets in, other right-wing candidates will likely sit it out as moderates such as Mitt Romney and TIm Pawlenty will set-up a moderate vs. conservative battle. If she stays out, other conservative candidates such as Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich have a much more real shot.

People complained last time around about the never-ending campaign. It is certain at this point that the 2012 campaign will be shorter than the one in 2008. How short still remains a question.

I expect many of the candidates...Pawlenty, Gingrich, Huckabee, Romney, to get in the race in either March or April, but high-profile possibles like Palin could conceivable wait longer. The debates start in June, so I expect the whole field to be filled in by then.

Personally, I can't wait for the campaign to start. I live for this sort of thing.

Freedom in Egypt
We can all root for this to end well. Grass roots protestors, risking life and limb to stand up to an authoritarian government, have succeeded in toppling it. What happens next is anyone's guess. A temporary military government could pave the path for true Democracy in Egypt or it could be a precursor to even more authoritarian and radically religious government. We all should root for the people of Egypt who seek to breathe the free air.

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