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Are Voters As Stupid As Insiders Think?

A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do Americans have the will to cut government spending in order to curb the rampant growth in government debt and liabilities? Not if the politicians they send to Washington have anything to do with it.

On Tuesday, a Republican candidate lost a special election to replace a disgraced GOP congressman from Buffalo, N.Y. -- to a Democrat who won with the help of a third-party candidate. Presto.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called a vote on the House GOP budget bill. As The New York Times reported, Reid "brought the legislation to the floor so that Senate Republicans would either have to vote for it, exposing them to attacks from Democrats and their allies, or against it, exploiting growing Republican divisions on the issue."

Under Reid, the Senate has not passed a budget since April 29, 2009. The Senate has yet to pass a resolution to authorize the use of military force in Libya, even though the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires Congress to authorize military force abroad lasting longer than 60 days. Friday is the 60th day.

But when Reid sees a chance to make Republicans squirm in a symbolic vote that won't change anything, he is a tiger.

The GOP package failed, as expected, after four moderate Republicans and Kentucky purist Rand Paul voted against it.

Then the Senate voted on the Obama spending blueprint. It tanked 97-0.

While headlines focused on the GOP 57-40 loss, there was not a single Democrat who voted to take up the Obama budget. Gee. Reid sure is good at exploiting GOP divisions.

So tell me, what do the Democrats stand for?

I know what most Republicans stand for. The House budget plan trimmed federal spending by $6 trillion over 10 years and targeted the big enchilada, entitlement spending. Under Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's plan, Medicare enrollees would receive subsidies that would allow them to purchase private health care plans starting in 2022.

Democrats call that "ending Medicare as we know it." Republicans counter that the Medicare trust fund is expected to go bust in 2024 (five years earlier than trustees predicted last year) so Washington better change Medicare -- and fast -- in order to save it.

House Republicans are so righteous about reform that their plan includes means-testing to make affluent seniors pay more for Medicare. At a speech to the Economic Club of New York earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner told billionaire and deficit hawk Pete Peterson, "Pete, I love you to death, but I don't think the taxpayers ought to be paying your Medicare premium."

Democrats are so stuck in "no" mode that they have been reduced to protesting Boehner's remarks. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, issued a statement in which he complained, "this idea may undermine Medicare and cost beneficiaries more at the same time."

The conventional wisdom inside the Beltway says that Republicans lost twice this week -- first in a special election, then a Senate vote. Conventional wisdom says that voters will bite if politicians, who promised fiscal discipline, lift a finger against entitlement spending. But a 97-zip vote on Plan Obama? Who calls that "winning?"

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