Voice

You can't handle the budget cuts!!

So I'm glad that the Porkbusters meme is catching on and all, and that there's some small-government criticism of this administration -- even on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. This would not be danieldrezner.com, however, unless I was disenchanted with something [And pining over Salma Hayek!!-ed.]. So it's worth pointing out that Virginia Postrel is correct:

I'm all for taking pork out of the federal budget, with or without Katrina, but the big money is elsewhere. How about delaying the Medicare prescription drug benefit?

Oh, while we're at it, let's kill Amtrak too -- and the f@$%ing moondoggle as well. UPDATE: Damn!! I forgot about the farm subsidies! I would like to think that outrage over the ballooning size of government will lead to some of this steps, but the political scientist in me is hugely skeptical. Budget cuts always sound great in the abstract, but as a policy it's identical to trade liberalization -- the benefits of fiscal stringency are diffuse and indirect, while the costs of budget-cutting are tangible and obvious. True, it's tough to get maudlin about bridges to nowhere, but I can easily picture media accounts demonstrating the tragic losses from cutting Amtrak or the space program, all to shave a quarter of a point off the interest rate. This would be even easier to do with the prescription drug benefit. And while it's OK to scorn government spending that doesn't affect you, once budget-cutting affects your bread and butter, suddenly the public trough looks mighty tasty. To paraphrase A Few Good Men:

Jessep: You want budget cuts? Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to them. Jessep: You want them? Kaffee: I want the cuts! Jessep: You can't handle the cuts! Son, we live in a world that needs quasi-public goods. And those needs have to be funded by men in Congress. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for small government and you curse the ballooning deficit. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that big government, while tragic, probably enriched some lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, enriches some lives...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want big government. You need big government.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is equally cynical:

[L]et's face it: none of these cuts are very likely to happen ? and even if they did pass, everyone knows the whole thing would die in the Senate. Getting on the anti-pork bandwagon is sort of a freebie that makes you look good with only a small risk of actually having to follow through.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On second thought, maybe I'm being too pessimistic. If AEI's Veronique de Rugy is correct, then Bush has expanded nondefense discretionary spending by the greatest percentage since LBJ (link via Andrew Sullivan and Nick Gillespie). Maybe, just maybe, there's so much execrable spending that cuts are politically viable.

Daniel W. Drezner

More on CPA recruitment

In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I've heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this. For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:

The staffing plan worked out by Reuben [Jeffery III, "a conservative but pragmatic former Goldman Sachs partner who had was a prominent contributor to the Republican party] and Jerry Bremer was to have these two [high level employees of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm] head up an HR staff seconded from the Army personnel office that would seek out high level civilians, without ideological bias, to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were brought on with the knowledge of DoD/OSD but not the White House. The first week they arrived, Office of the White House Liaison (OWHL), headed by a man named Jim O'Beirne, found out about CPA's staffing plans. A turf war ensued. At one point, OWHL personnel told the two Korn/Ferry employees that they had to clear their desks and be escorted out of the building. Of course, Reuben intervened and nothing that dramatic happened. What did happen is that recruitment was reassigned from CPA to OWHL by OSD. The Korn/Ferry people were only to help interview and process candidates already screened by OWHL. I sat in the same room of cubes for several weeks watching this unfold, talking daily with the Korn/Ferry people, and observing the first interviews run by OWHL. OWHL hired retired military personnel, most of whom had run for public office as Republicans and been defeated in the 2002 electoral cycle, to staff its CPA recruiting arm. I observed one such individual, a retired Navy CMDR who lost a Virginia legislature race in 2002, question one applicant as to their stance on Roe v. Wade. I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to "the president's vision for Iraq" (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was "uncertain." I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, FERC, and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.

Now, let me be the first to say that a shared ideology should play a role in hiring decisions at some level. If an applicant was asked why s/he wanted to go to Iraq, and that person answered, "I want to expose the role of evil multinational oil companies in the exploitation of Iraqi resources," well, that person wouldn't make a terribly good CPA employee. Let me also say, as Kevin Drum pointed out previously, that the people who were hired to be CPA personnel have the best of intentions and appear to have spared no effort to rebuild Iraqi society. That said, how does a person's opinion towards Roe v. Wade possibly affect their ability to function in Iraq? This is a story crying out for further investigation. In the meantime, CPA employees who believe that this is an exaggerated picture of the hiring process should feel free to e-mail. I'll be happy to reprint what's relevant to the topic.

UPDATE: A claifying missive from my anonymous source:

I want to make clear that I never perceived that a pro-life stance was a necessary litmus test to work for CPA. That exchange was just an example of the type of ideological concerns I observed within CPA.... I want to reiterate how impressed I was in general at the level of commitment and skill in all the CPA personnel I met. I'm just disturbed that ideological reasons seem to have drastically narrowed the pool of committed Americans eligible to participate on this important endeavor.

Me too.