It's funny what gets you counted as a deficit hawk. It's even funnier what doesn't.
In their continuing resolutions, congressional Republicans have managed to cut $285 million per week from the federal budget, mostly from non-defense discretionary spending. It's been a hard, politically risky fight, and it's far from clear that they will ultimately win or that the cuts will stick in the long term.
For their valor here, the Republicans now pass as deficit hawks. No doubt about it! Their supporters and detractors alike agree. Yes, we'll still have to reform entitlements, and yes, these cuts are really just a pittance compared to all those other things the Republicans didn't touch. Yet deficit hawks they are, and deficit hawks they remain. Oh, and the Democrats fought, too. They lined up to defend NPR and cowboy poetry from those vicious, heartless GOP slashers. It wouldn't be America without state-subsidized cowboy poetry, just like in the Old West.
But what a difference a week makes. Those very same Republicans now eagerly champion President Obama's war on Libya. Our new war is costing us $700 million per week -- more than twice the savings from all those vicious, hard-won, far-from-certain budget cuts.
You can count on that estimate being low, too. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consult the preliminary estimates from Afghanistan and Iraq, and recall that -- by those estimates -- we should be long gone from each, and for maybe a tenth or even less the cost. Anyone remember how we were told that Iraq would pay for itself? I certainly do.
Suppose that I owned a store, and that I sold a shirt for twenty dollars. If I were to cut the price of that shirt by five, and then immediately raise it by ten -- what are we left with? A more expensive shirt, of course. Yet in Washington, I could presumably brag about my price cut all along, and I'd even be praised for it. No one would be impolite enough, I suppose, to complain about the immediate price increase. Just ask the Republicans, who are and remain deficit hawks, even if all they've done is spend a little less on cowboy poetry. And vastly more on war.
By the same token, few are likely to call Dennis Kucinich a deficit hawk. Yet his resolution to de-fund the war on Libya would save more than all of the Republicans' horrible, heartless, budget-slashing efforts combined. Even if Kucinich wants to keep NPR, which he does, he's still well ahead of the game. The only thing he's not getting is the credit. His fellow outlier in Congress, Representative Ron Paul, seems to understand. Not many others do.
The Libyan war serves absolutely no U.S. strategic interest. It is being fought to support rebels whose aims and very identities are mostly a mystery to us. If our goal were to remind the world that we're still well-armed and a bit impulsive, we might have done better with cowboy poetry. If it's a humanitarian intervention -- then why not invade North Korea, whose people are starving? If we want to oust a dictator, why not pick Cuba (whose people aren't doing too great on the humanitarian front, either, come to think of it)?
But at least Libya's not NPR. Cutting NPR makes you a serious, tough, responsible deficit hawk. Spending a lot more than that, as long as it's for a bombing campaign, doesn't erase any of that deficit-hawky seriousness. And proposing that we cut purely optional military spending doesn't make you a deficit hawk.