The GOP’s Smartly Incoherent Messaging on Spending Cuts

That’s a lot of pork.

Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images

All last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent reporters “messaging” emails, attacking House Democrats for “refus[ing] to support replacing the sequester with responsible reductions to wasteful spending.” Reading the emails, you’d think that the current GOP House had passed a bill to replace sequestration—a common mistake! But you’d learn that sequestration would “cut Medicare by 2 percent,” furlough border agents, and “develop a musical on climate change and biodiversity.”
Why tether the two of those together? One is a driver of long-term deficits; one cost $697,177. The musical, “The Great Immensity,” does sound terrible. (“Many of the songs sounded like a Wikipedia entry set to music.”) But the obviously wasteful spending cited by the NRCC adds up, notes Alex Seitz-Wald, to $3.4 million. “That’s a bit shy of the promised ‘billions in waste’ and total bill for the sequestration of $1.2 trillion. So close, they’re .000283 percent of the way there! Just find 353,000 times more waste of the same size and we’ll solve this thing, guys.” Even the report from Sen. Tom Coburn that produces these factoids doesn’t add up to $1.2 trillion, which is why Coburn himself is forever open to a grand bargain that raises some tax revenue and cuts entitlements.
But go on, scoff—it’s the NRCC’s new pitch! As the House stays in recess, the NRCC gives CNN a preview of the campaign it’ll use to tell online readers of local papers that their local Democrats are to blame for sequestration.

The “Obama’s sequester” stuff is still there, but the argument’s being expanded to tell voters just how venal these Democrats are. You don’t like the headline in your paper about program cuts? It’s because a Democrat refused to replace those cuts with some whack at a dumb squirrel cyborg initiative. Left unsaid is that 1) the current GOP House hasn’t replaced sequestration either, and 2) when it did so, it replaced defense spending cuts with more cuts to social programs, not actually taking the scalpel to the science or foreign aid budgets. Doesn’t matter—voters are notoriously ill-informed about how much the government spends.