The Spending Tug

Gene Healy writes:

Ryan aside, it’s pretty clear that the GOP isn’t serious about reducing spending. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, distanced the party from the road map almost as soon as it was released, leaving reporters with the distinct impression that Ryan had soiled the punchbowl.

In the middle of the recent fight against socialized medicine, Republicans fought hard to protect the chunk of our health care system that’s already socialized. If there’s money to be saved trimming waste from Medicare, “we should spend it on Grandma!” insisted Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. GOP leader Michael Steele proposed a “contract with seniors” insulating Medicare from cuts.

But that’s no surprise. Politicians live to get re-elected, and they won’t change their behavior unless and until voters force them to. What this country desperately needs is a political movement that will pressure them to change their ways.

The Tea Partiers could become that movement — if they’re serious.

I’ve previously mentioned Kinder & Kam’s US Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion but it helps shed some light on this issue. They use National Election Survey data and show that if you restrict your attention to white Americans then ethnocentric views (both in terms of positive views of whites and negative views of non-whites) is correlated with hostility to means-tested welfare programs. The relationship remains statistically significant even when you control for partisanship and for self-described political beliefs regarding egalitarianism and limited government.


But if you look at views on social insurance programs — Social Security and Medicare — you get the reverse result. Ethnocentrism is associated with support for increases in Social Security and Medicare spending, again even when you control for partisanship and self-described political beliefs regarding egalitarianism and limited government. And what seems to matter here isn’t dislike for non-whites, but positive solidaristic feelings about other white people.

Which is just to say that in a rarified “I work at a think tank” kind of way, beliefs about entitlement spending ought to roughly line up with beliefs about means-tested welfare and it all ought to be driven by abstract beliefs about small government and egalitarianism. In the real world, however, there are significant other factors driving opinion that push views about these categories of spending in different directions.