“Where are the president’s spending cuts?” asks John Boehner. With Republicans coming to grips with their inability to stop taxes on the rich from rising, the center of the debate has turned to the expenditure side. In the short run, the two parties have run into an absurd standoff, where Republicans demand that President Obama produce an offer of higher spending cuts, and Obama replies that Republicans should say what spending cuts they want, and Republicans insist that Obama should try to guess what kind of spending cuts they would like.
Reporters are presenting this as a kind of negotiating problem, based on each side’s desire for the other to stick its neck out first. But it actually reflects a much more fundamental problem than that. Republicans think government spending is huge, but they can’t really identify ways they want to solve that problem, because government spending is not really huge. That is to say, on top of an ideological gulf between the two parties, we have an epistemological gulf. The Republican understanding of government spending is based on hazy, abstract notions that don’t match reality and can’t be translated into a workable program.
Let’s unpack this a bit.