Monday, January 26, 2009

An alternate history, 1994-2008

As we went from the highs of the Contract with America to today's lows for the GOP, I thought I'd offer a look at what happened and what it might mean.
When the Republicans came to power after the 1994 election, one of the things they tried to do was slow entitlement spending. They looked to the future - 20 to 30 years out - and saw the demand for service outstripping supply of money from taxes. They thought a small reduction now would mean more money later.
But sacrifice now for future benefit isn't the way Washington works. President Clinton fought the government shutdowns that came from the policy battle, the Republicans were blamed as the bad guys and slowing the rate of increase went off the table.
So if you see a future shortfall and you can't slow spending, the thing available is to increase money available for programs. Cutting taxes helped the economy grow, but last fall the bottom dropped out. All the extra money we thought we had for retirement and programs popped with the bubble.
So now we're back to where we were in 1995, but with fewer options. It's probably 10 years or less until the money for entitlements puts a pinch on everything else in the budget. The cuts will have to be harder and deeper than they would have been. There's not enough time to grow out of the problem.
Tough choices will have to be made. Will Washington be up to the task?

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