Charlie Harper: Paul Broun's red-meat politics

March 22, 2013 

Congressman Paul Broun is good at making headlines. Being adored by the far right media or eviscerated by MSNBC are both good for his personal politics, and Broun knows it. And the way one makes headlines in those spheres is not to suggest good policy, but rather to stake out the most rigid position, leave no room to outflank, and cast anyone with a lesser position as squishy and impure.

Whether these tactics can ever achieve a majority even within the Republican caucus is irrelevant. Knowing your supporters see you as the "most conservative congressman" is much more important than implementing genuinely conservative ideas or changing the actual direction in Washington.

Such is the case with Congressman Broun's -- now candidate Broun's -- latest op-ed in the New York Times, in which he describes Paul Ryan's plan to balance the federal budget in 10 years as "nibbling around the edges." Broun then throws red meat to a base he hopes will feast on his rhetoric rather than examine his own numbers. Because if they bother to look at his numbers, his candidacy is doomed.

Broun belittles Ryan's savings by saying that a reduction in the growth of government from 5% projected growth to 3.4% is "not good enough." Broun would prefer you not think about the fact that if we had done that 10 years ago -- when Republicans had the majority -- we wouldn't be talking about any deficits today.

Broun begins with a sleight of hand, first counting savings from eliminating the Department of Education and Department of Energy at $500 billion, but talks of returning the money that is saved back to the states. Well, which is it, Dr. Broun? Is that money being saved, or is it being spent better at the local level?

Broun pulls a similar trick with Medicaid, advocating it be transferred to the states in block grants. Except Medicaid is already a function of state and federal governments, and as we've learned here in Georgia during the discussion of both Medicaid expansion and the hospital bed tax, the feds already don't pay for all of Medicaid's expenses and the state doesn't cover the full cost of Medicaid patients to health care providers. Broun instead relies on catching "fraud, waste and abuse" as a magic wand that will produce his "savings."

While mixing numbers like a third-grader who forgets to carry the one, Broun offers no time frame nor even a total amount of savings that would make his plan better than Ryan's -- which itself is only the starting point of negotiation and likely not the ultimate version that will become law. But to Broun, those details aren't important. He just needs you -- and anyone else who may consider voting in next summer's Senate primary - to know that he is more conservative than Paul Ryan … or, more importantly, anyone else considering running for Senate.

Broun has pulled this stunt before. In July of 2011 as Congress was debating an increase in the debt ceiling, Congressman Broun proposed a bill to lower it. That's right, when the U.S. was only taking in enough tax revenue to pay Social Security, Medicare, VA Benefits and interest on the debt -- and borrowing the entire discretionary budget including the entire defense budget -- Congressman Broun wanted to force an immediate reduction not just in the deficit, but in the outstanding debt.

He got the headlines he wanted. And he didn't have to explain that under his bill entitlement payments would have to be immediately cut AND that the entire rest of the federal budget would have to be vaporized in order to begin paying off treasuries. Because those details don't matter when someone is proposing something with no chance of passing. When it's never going to happen, you can say anything you want.

Congressman Broun has a history of publicity stunts to try to make himself look conservative. His record of actual accomplishment with his proposals - even getting them to a committee vote -- is still only aspirational. Conservative voters expect results. Real conservatives deliver them.

Georgia Republicans must now greet these Broun op-eds and press releases for what they are -- not policy documents, or even serious proposals -- but mere campaign advertisements; long on headline short on detail, and anything but conservative.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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