Yesterday, the House of Representatives discussed a resolution recognizing the 70th anniversary of the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Talk eventually wound its way to Brandeis’ famed characterization of states as the laboratories of democracy, and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) pointed to California’s legalization of medical marijuana, which has since spread to 13 states, as a prime example of that approach.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), however, wanted to choose another example, and said that California’s Proposition 13 should be a guiding light for the nation:
Yes, [Brandeis] did believe in states being the laboratories of democracy. And I enjoy the gentleman’s comments, reference to my state of California and I might say, rather than choose the subject he chose, as an example of California being one of those laboratories, I would suggest Proposition 13 or perhaps “three strikes and you’re out” as guiding lights to the rest of the nation as to how we ought to organize ourselves.
Back in reality, 1978′s Prop. 13 — which requires that a two-thirds majority of the state legislature approve any tax increase — lies “at the root of California’s misery” and its complete budget dysfunction. It has rendered California completely incapable of doing anything to bring its budget into balance that doesn’t involve slashing social services, closing prisons, and laying off record numbers of public employees. Even though they make up just one-third of the state legislature, Prop. 13 has enabled conservatives to block even moderate tax increases, including rejecting an increase in the tobacco tax 14 times.
But Lungren’s idealizing of Prop. 13 fits into the wider GOP mantra of the moment, which is to promise never to raise taxes at any time, for any reason, ever. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), for instance, thinks a simple point of bipartisan agreement should be that no taxes on anybody will increase until unemployment falls below 5 percent. So even if unemployment fell by half, clearly signaling that the economy had recovered from its 2008 shock, that still would not be enough for Cantor to approve a tax increase for even the wealthiest Americans.
But it’s a simple fact that the country’s long-term budget can’t be balanced on spending cuts alone. As Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger pointed out, exempting interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending (which Republicans never agree to cut), “the rest of the budget needs to be cut by 51 percent to have a balanced budget in 2014.” That’s half of everything — Food Stamps, Pell Grants, Title I education funding, Medicaid, low-income energy assistance, etc. Even if defense spending is thrown into the mix, it takes a 35 percent cut to achieve balance.
As Paul Krugman told me, reducing long-term deficits is not hard economically, but is “politically impossible right now.” Indeed, by reveling in the “guiding light” of Prop. 13 Lungren reveals that he — like the rest of the GOP — is simply not serious about addressing America’s long-term fiscal position.