Sunday, February 20, 2011


The House Republicans have passed a budget for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2010. This was something the Democrats should have done prior to October 1, but they put it off because they thought that it would hurt their chances in the November elections. They were probably right about that.

So they left the job to the Republicans, who campaigned on a platform of steep cuts. The linked article is from October 1, 2010, four and a half months ago. Since that time, they held hearings, had a mini-revolt, argued vociferously among themselves and passed a budget. Google shows 13,400,000 hits for "republican budget cuts". This has not been a big secret.

So, in response, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, says she, too, wants deep cuts, but since the current continuing resolution expires on March 4, they need more time to work out precisely where to cut how much.

More time? Maybe Ms. McCaskill and her fellow Senate Democrats were unaware that a budget was required until the House passed one this weekend. No, that doesn't sound right. I read somewhere about there being a budget every year. Perhaps they were taken by surprise by the passage of the budget in the House. No, that doesn't sound right, either, what with the Republicans campaigning, speechifying and holding hearings and all on the issue since last fall. And I don't think that Democrats are any dumber than the average Republican, or less organized.

I am pretty sure that the reason that the Senate Democrats are not prepared to discuss matters relating to the budget almost halfway through the fiscal year lies in Senator McCaskill's comment that she, and by extension Senate Democrats in general, want deep budget cuts, just like the Republicans, just different cuts. The Democrats are not prepared to talk about budget cuts at this time because they do not want to tell any of their constituent groups that their particular piece of the pie is being reduced.

I don't know the budget process, but I think there is a way to test that theory. McCaskill said she wanted a continuing resolution for a short additional time. Speaker of the House Boehner said the House Republicans would not consent to a continuing resolution without cuts. So pass the House approved budget as a continuing resolution effective for four weeks. McCaskill is happy because she gets the time she says she needs. Boehner is happy because he gets the budget cuts he says he needs. Boehner is unhappy because his budget cuts are effective only for a short time. McCaskill is unhappy because the "wrong cuts" are being made. Boehner can live with his unhappiness because he was always going to have to compromise some of those cuts away in any event. McCaskill can live with her unhappiness because the "wrong cuts" are only effective for a short time.

All in all, a reasonable compromise, but it won't work. The reason it won't work is that McCaskill's problem with the Democratic constituency groups remains unchanged at the end of the four week period. Arrow's Theorem states that where you have a voting system with more than two choices being considered, the sum of the voters' rational preferences can be irrational.

From Wikipedia:

Where there are three voters (1, 2 and 3) and three policy choices (A, B and C), it is possible to have each voter rank his preferences as follows:

Voter 1 prefers A over B and B over C
Voter 2 prefers B over C and C over A
Voter 3 prefers C over A and A over B

When a contest between A and B is held, Voters 1 and 3 vote for A, and A wins.

Then a contest between A and C is held. Voters 2 and 3 vote for C, and C wins.

But what if a third contest were held, between B and C? Voters 1 and 2 vote for B, which wins despite having previously lost to policy A.

B loses to A loses to C loses to B. Arrow is a freaking genius.

That, I think, is essentially the position that the Democrats find themselves with respect to the budget. They are unable (or unwilling) to designate one or more of their constituent groups to take the budget hit, while still retaining sufficient support overall from those very same constituent groups to get reelected. They are therefore reduced to yelling about union busting in Wisconsin, a subject of absolutely no relevance at the federal level of government.

They are like the talking dogs in the movie "Up" (an absolutely delightful film, by the way). They say, "I support you because I am your Congressm... SQUIRREL!!!!!!!!!!!"

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