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Deficits and Small-Government Republicans: A Love Story

When it comes to President Obama’s 2011 budget, Republicans deplore deficits. They don’t like spending money (even if it’s to help Americans struggling to find work or keep their homes) except when they can extol the virtues of the pork projects the Democrats’ votes help them bring home. But they have a dirty little secret: The self-same deficits give them the political cover they crave to cut government services they don’t personally need, so they don’t mind them that much.

A case in point is scandal-plagued Nevada governor Jim Gibbons, who plans to use his state’s budget deficit to “reinvent” Nevada’s already-meager government.

“We may never have an opportunity like this again,” he said.

The opportunity presenting itself to Gibbons is to slash services in the state. On the chopping block: a college scholarship reserve fund; state workers’ salaries; elementary and secondary education; Medicaid coverage for glasses, hearing aids and dental care; and day care programs for disabled adults. Oh, and he might eliminate some tax deductions for mining companies, which would amount to 25 percent of the cuts in Nevada children’s educational programs.

Anti-tax Republicans often push for tax cuts without concomitant service cuts because cuts in services are far less politically popular, particularly in the good economic times that encourage politicians to enact tax cuts. But it’s not that they are bad at math; they instead just believe that they can “starve the beast” of government by limiting its access to funds. Never mind that “starving the beast” rarely works even when Republicans control the government and that often even Republican governments will actually raise taxes rather than cut needed services — anti-tax Republicans will continue to advocate that cutting taxes is just the first step to cutting unnecessary spending.

Of course, what a relatively wealthy Republican considers “unnecessary” spending should give many Americans pause. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out this weekend, Republicans are more than happy to preside over the largest expansion of government since World War II if it involves wars or government surveillance. But, as Gibbons proves, they’ll pare down dental care for people who can’t afford health insurance, they’ll “starve the beast” of public education and they’ll make sure low-income people with hearing impairments can’t get hearing aids on the government dime (even if those hearing aids can help them get a job). And then they’ll celebrate the “opportunity” to “reinvent” government.

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