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    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Republicans can't cut spending

    Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal tells us why:

    When, last year, DeLay blurted out that the budget had no fat left, he meant that it had no political fat, and he was right. Every dollar now served a constituent group in DeLay's carefully built machine. Phase one had worked. In 2005, with Bush safely re-elected and their congressional majorities cemented, Republicans launched phase two: a reform effort aimed at Social Security.

    Then came a shock. Social Security reform collapsed and spending proved all but intractable, both for the same reason: Large-scale reform needs a popular majority, not just a parliamentary one, and Republicans constitute only a third of the country. In building their machine, the Republicans had made Democrats hostile and independents suspicious, and the support that remained was far from enough.

    No one should be surprised that political entrenchment militates against governmental reform. One-party rule always turns reactionary. Still, the 2006 budget cycle is important for three reasons. First, conservatives finally realized they were captives of their own machine. Second, they rebelled, passing a package of entitlement cuts for the first time in eight years. Third, their rebellion proved not how much they could accomplish without Democratic votes, but how little. DeLay's fortress is conservatism's prison.

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