Conservatism – Libertarian Bluster

Interesting little article by Josh Barro at Business Insider on US republicans:

They have an abstract idea that they regret the New Deal and the Great Society. But they don’t actually want to undo the big entitlement programs that those agendas gave us: Social Security, SNAP, Medicare, Medicaid.

They’re not boxed in by the electorate. They’re boxed in by their own acceptance of the New Deal consensus, and their simultaneous unwillingness to admit that there is such a consensus. They think the government is too way big but they’re not in favor of specific ways to make it much smaller. And when the resulting incoherence of their agenda becomes clear, they get angry, because they have no idea what the hell they are doing.

Take SNAP, commonly known as Food Stamps. Participation in this program is at an all-time high, with more than 1 in 7 Americans receiving benefits. Conservatives are outraged. They are attacking Barack Obama as the “food stamp president.” And their radical plan is to cut SNAP… by 5%.

The 5% SNAP cut is not some plan that was cooked up by milquetoast establishmentarians trying to nod toward conservative goals without rocking the boat in Washington. It’s the plan that was demanded by the true believers—by and large, the same House conservatives currently forcing the government shutdown over Obamacare—after they defeated leadership’s plan for a 2.5% cut.

Or look at Medicaid. Many Republican politicians are bitterly resisting the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare. But not a single state has chosen to withdraw from the traditional Medicaid program, even though that would produce real budget savings and put a major dent in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legacy. Even states with Republican legislative supermajorities and very conservative electorates stay in. I can only conclude that conservatives do not actually want to undo Medicaid.

Republicans will take big symbolic votes against the Great Society, as with Paul Ryan’s budgets that would deeply slash Medicaid funding and radically restructure Medicare. But when they have actual power to deeply cut existing entitlements, they decline. This is the opposite of what you do if you are afraid of the electorate; they have no fear of saying they want to deeply cut these programs, but they choose not to.