December’s budget deal between Paul Ryan and Patty Murray included a bit of relief from the 2011 sequestration cuts, with the relief split evenly between domestic and military budgets. That even split was one of the guiding principles of the deal. But part of the military relief was paid for by $7 billion in cuts to veterans’ pensions, something that immediately prompted a storm of protest and, eventually, a move to rescind the cuts. Jared Bernstein comments:
True, that’s not huge bucks in the scheme of things. But the violation of this budget principle should not be taken lightly. A key point of the budget machinations that brought us to where we are today is that automatic spending cuts should be split between evenly between defense and non-defense (forget for a moment, that it’s not the discretionary side of the budget that’s responsible for our longer term fiscal challenges anyway). If Congress starts stealing from domestic programs to boost defense, it will unfairly and unwisely exacerbate already unsustainable pressures on domestic spending.
I’d take a slightly different lesson from this: Democrats got snookered. Only a little bit, and they knew they were being played, but they still got snookered. It was obvious from the start that cuts to veterans’ benefits would be unpopular and unlikely to stand, but Democrats agreed to them anyway in order to get the budget deal across the finish line. Maybe that was the right thing to do, but it was no accident. They did it with their eyes wide open.