Shorter John Boehner

“The people who elected me Speaker are mostly cowards.”

“The people who elected me Speaker are mostly cowards.”

Or, as Boehner put it more diplomatically, “In the end, most of our members wanted this to pass, but they didn’t want to vote for it.”

Footnote Bonus good news: Obama told Boehner “We don’t have a spending problem.”

Bonus bad news: Boehner says he and his wrecking crew care so little about national security that they’re willing to let the defense sequester happen if that’s what it takes to make sure that the rest of the public’s business also doesn’t get done.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

33 thoughts on “Shorter John Boehner”

  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I doubt that the defense sequester would have a measurable impact on national security. It might be disruptive to the economy, but that’s not the same thing as national security.

    Even as an ironic mimicking of a Republican talking point, it lends said talking point too much credence. Having a serious debate about how much military spending we actually need for national security would be a good thing.

    1. The fact that we could in principle spend less and be more secure doesn’t imply that imposing immediate across-the-board cuts in the middle of the budget year wouldn’t do major damage to our actual capabilities.

      1. This is portentous waffle, Mr Kleiman. The US has so wide an edge over any other nation’s military that it’s hard to imagine the sequester impairing our ability to defend ourselves in any significant way. Heaven knows, defense procurement is the most obviously corrupt area of our government – and we would all be better off if the sequester forced the DOD to take a scalpel to our bloated establishment and wasteful projects. I am prepared to bet you can’t actually specify capabilities that would be adversely affected and the degree to which they would be – and put any sort of precise evaluation on such assertions. Can you prove me wrong?

      2. I don’t disagree that the nature of the sequester would be unnecessarily disruptive.

        But is there a single realistic threat that we couldn’t handle anymore as a result and that we can handle now? To put this in perspective, US military spending is 41% of that of the entire world. We’re outspending China 5:1 and Russia 10:1 (and everybody else even more).

      3. I think the point Mark makes here is valid. The DOD is a complex organization and you can’t reorganize it on short order without risking dire consequences. As wasteful as the enterprise has become a sudden depleation of funds is asking for trouble.

        1. It’s a question of degree — just how “dire” would be the consequences — and I agree with Katja and ALincoln: I don’t think they WOULD be particularly “dire.”

          We have DOUBLED our military spending since 2001, and that excludes the DoE numbers for nukes. Certainly a big part of that was the Afghanistan and Iraq efforts, but those have been winding down for some time. I’m perfectly happy to gamble that DoD can handle cuts — particularly cuts phased in over MULTIPLE YEARS — without materially affecting national security.

          As to the economic effects, yes it would be a reduction in stimulus, but I would also note that the “multiplier effect” of military spending is about the lowest of ANY government spending, so if any is to be cut, cutting military spending will have the LEAST deleterious macro effects.

          Cut away. They’re so bloated they probably won’t even feel it.

          1. I always find it depressing when other, presumably liberal people, seem unable to feel empathy for others. A lot of people are going to lose jobs very suddenly if the sequester kicks in, and many of these people, although employed by the military or its contractors, will have virtually nothing to do with the war apparatus. Some smaller contractors will probably go under. Rapid, unplanned cuts have actual human consequences, it’s not just that some weapon doesn’t get purchased.

          2. You have achieved a first- used empathy and compassion to defend out of control military spending. Whether you have used empathy and compassion reasonably is another matter.

          3. The defense budget is not a welfare program and making war for the sake of jobs is completely immoral, so no, I don’t think the job losses should get any consideration.

        2. Well, again, the cuts phase in over YEARS, and it’s not like weapons program budgets — vs, say, those of schools — don’t typically have large “management contingency” line items. (Disclosure: I used to work in the field.)

          Given the magnitude of the money involved, and the nature of DoD programs, cuts of this size over this scale should be easily manageable. A generic sob story does not move me.

          1. I was actually extrapolating from the perspective of a former civilian-agency federal contractor. Perhaps things work more differently in defense than I had been aware. Based on experience with the near-government shutdown mess of the not so distant past, I would guess that if the sequester were implemented, some of the smaller agencies would issue stop work orders for all work not based on a judicial or statutory deadline, and then would take several weeks to figure out which projects they were going to reactivate. Meanwhile, the contractors’ workflow would slow to a trickle and they would have to either lay people off or bleed money finding their employees nonbillable work to do.

          2. My experience as a DoD contractor was identical. Federal employees don’t get laid off at first; contractors get Stop-Work orders, while the client agency takes some time to sort out what to do next, and how to do it with minimum disruption to the in-house staff.

    2. The effects of the sequester on national security will depend entirely on how the sequester is implemented. If the armed services respond by cutting training expenses (which appears likely), it could have a substantial negative effect.

      It isn’t really fair to compare our defense expenditures to those of Russia or (especially) China. We pay our troops something akin to a living wage, the Chinese keep their troops alive. We spend a lot of money on medical care for the troops, and especially for battle (and training) casualties. They don’t. The American way of war is to substitute technology for boots where ever this is possible. They don’t.

      A fairer comparison would be to ask how much the western NATO members would spend if they maintained forces the size of ours. We still end up spending more, but not at the ratios I see being tossed around.

      Please note that I am not saying that we must maintain our current level of defense spending. I believe that we can make substantial cuts in the DoD without materially affecting national security. But I also believe that a meataxe like the sequester is the wrong way to go about matters.

    3. It’s a mistake to assume that because we’re spending way to much money, that therefore, necessarily, sudden spending cuts would be applied in the right place. Very likely, some important areas would see the meat axe while some ridiculous wasteful programs would be unchanged.

      1. Well, then it’s probably a good thing that I’m not assuming that.

        My point, in short, was: Regardless of how bad the sequester is in practice, its actual effect on national security would be pretty much nil. I was taking exception with the overblown rhetoric of “care so little about national security” that used to be a Republican -style talking point and now seems to have been turned around. I don’t disagree that blindly taking a hatchet to the DoD budget would be a bad thing; but you’ll have to do a better job selling me on the claim that it would be an actual problem for national security. National security is purely a bogeyman here.

        1. An even more pointed assertion is that the Pentagon Bloat so far exceeds the amount needed to defend the country that there is no need at all to worry. JMHO.

  2. If only he’d had the courage to say that a few days ago. We might have had a new Speaker today.

    I agree with Abe; The sequester might, by intent, have been unnecessarily disruptive, but I’ll take any cuts in spending I can get at this point, and you’d have to “disrupt” the military quite a lot more than a minor spending cut before our safety would be impacted.

    “Obama told Boehner “We don’t have a spending problem.””

    Right, and at 230 lbs, I don’t have a weight problem, I’ve got a height problem. I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

      1. better to point to recent research about BMI. Turns out there is no correlation with moderately overweight by BMI and mortality.

        And while Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, being fat is not.

        1. Yes, as I remarked to my wife yesterday, “BMI” is an inexcusably crude metric, putting me and a massive bodybuilder in the same category, because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. The number is practically useless for any practical purpose, its only ‘virtue’ is that it is easy to calculate.

          Which is not to totally dismiss the research, as I’m one of those decidedly fat people with normal BP, cholesterol, and lipids. I’m just fat, aside from that I’m healthy.

          But there actually is an important argument here: For most of a century government revenue has been moderately stable at about 19% of GDP in this country, under a huge range of nominal tax rates. While spending has varied all over the map. This does make Obama claiming we have a revenue, not a spending, problem, (At a time when our spending compares unfavorably to WWII rates!) very similar to if I claimed I had a height rather than a weight problem. In the sense that my height, and the government’s revenue, are not plausibly increasing enough to close the gap.

  3. Even Krugman thinks we have a spending problem. If Obama really doesn’t think so, this is terribly bad news. If he’s just saying it for positional advantage, he’s a liar – which is itself dreadful news – and I think it won’t work well for him in coming to an agreement.

    1. Dave, that’s so totally disingenuous it’s amazing you’d have the nerve to press the Submit button.

      Krugman, in his Op-Ed column yesterday, wrote this: “And here in America, Republicans insist that they’ll use a confrontation over the debt ceiling — a deeply illegitimate action in itself — to demand spending cuts that would drive us back into recession. The truth is that we’ve just experienced a colossal failure of economic policy — and far too many of those responsible for that failure both retain power and refuse to learn from experience.”

      Maybe you know some other guy named “Krugman” you like to cite. But the one I read thinks the spending problem is that the stimulus was and is too small, and we need more significant government spending to speed up the country on the road to recovery.

      1. Krugman does see long term medical spending as a problem but then Boehner says that is the position Obama also takes. Perhaps Dave would like to clarify that as what was meant?

        The fact that the Speaker appears completely ignorant of the views of the economics opinion column of the “newspaper of record”, written by a Nobel laureate, should be disturbing to everyone. The bubble is beginning to cause hypoxia.

      2. Dave was right: Krugman DOES believe we have a spending problem. He thinks the problem is that in a recession or near-recession we’re spending too little. I happen to agree with him. I’d just like to spend less on the military and more on transportation, libraries, and schools.

        1. One of the difficulties in this discussion is the clumsiness of terminology as words like stimulus are poisoned. I agree that Krugman has since the beginning of the recession advocated more stimulus, that is, short term spending. He does, however, also understand the distortion of long term health cost increases; it is part of his defense of Social Security, which requires only minor adjustment of funding and no benefit cuts, and recognition that Medicare/Medicaid is a much more complicated and long term problem.

          That is why I invited Dave to clarify “spending”.

  4. Let reality intrude. Suppose you were a representative in a conservative district who wants Obamacare. You will vote for it if needed to pass it, but you ask Pelosi to let you off the hook. She considers your case and some others and lets a few representatives vote against to reduce the damage back home.

    That is being a good majority leader. That is being a good representative. Make sure the important bills get passed, but give vulnerable representatives a way out as much as you can.

    It is not a matter of cowardice. The the Democratic Party only had politicians who vote their own beliefs come hell or high water there would be a permanent Republican majority in politics. That would be courage?

    1. The analogy is bad.

      The Democratic member who voted against Obamacare (or some other Dem initiative) goes against the party’s base to placate the general electorate of the district. The Republican who voted against the budget deal did so because they were afraid of their own party’s base.

      On the one hand, you’ve got representatives taking a more centrist position and in the other you have them taking a more extremist position.

  5. @ prognostication,

    Liberals would not necessarily be happy to see “defense” workers unemployed. Neither are we heartless for asking that the country get good value for money spent. The Department of Defense isn’t supposed to be the WPA with guns. It’s supposed to be focused on defending us from foreign threats, not providing corporate welfare and phony make-work jobs.

    There are far better uses to which wasteful and necessary defense spending can be turned and defense workers can be retrained to become useful and productive citizens. Let’s use that money for important national projects such as improving our decaying infrastructure and building new schools and civic buildings here in America instead of in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  6. Brett, of all people, captures my objection to the original post. Some of these Republicans are not, in fact, hostage-takers because their primary goal is to shoot the hostages. Maybe they’ll be willing to settle for shooting some hostages and collecting some ransom, but they really do regard the federal government as the enemy. For them, the correct analogy isn’t hostage-taking, but rather a war with existential implications that must be won at whatever cost.

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