Erik Kain rallies to Scott Brown’s defense:

While the op-ed doesn’t address spending issues explicitly, it’s not as though Republicans or Brown in particular are calling for more spending. Perhaps spending cuts aren’t the best idea in the midst of a recession any more than hiking taxes. Additionally, one of the reasons Brown states for his opposition to the healthcare reform bill is its increased spending and tax burden. Perhaps he should also be proposing ways to cut current spending, but certainly there is nothing inconsistent with opposing future spending either.

Here’s what Erik is missing and what Andrew found so irritating about the op-ed: Brown opens by listing his his concerns, including his concern over our $12 trillion in debt, and then urges tax-cutting without stating how this would even begin to address this massive debt. Fiscal conservatism isn’t a combination of the endless desire for tax reduction and lip service to mounting debt. Fiscal conservatives recognize large public debt to be a cause of economic weakness. Debt reduction is as much a part of any “pro-growth” policy as tax-cutting. Debt reduction has just as much to do with controlling the size of government as cutting taxes does. That Republicans predictably always prefer the latter is a source of increasing frustration for all of us on the right who would like to see both some glimmer of intelligence in Republican policy proposals and some readiness to address policy problems that exist today rather than addressing the problems that existed in 1981.

Absent significant increases in revenue to begin paying off that debt, tax reductions are a means to buy short-term support at the expense of our long-term fiscal and economic health. In Brown’s case, I suspect that one reason he included his “across-the-board tax cut” proposal in this particular op-ed is that he wanted to find some way to invoke John Kennedy and tie himself to the famous Massachusetts dynasty whose seat, of course, he will not be filling. Fiscal conservatives should find this much debt abhorrent because of the economic burden it places on the present and the obligations it imposes on our posterity, but other than saying “no more stimulus!” Brown tells us nothing about how he would work to reduce the debt. What bothers Andrew, and what I think moves him to dub Brown’s op-ed as “mindless,” is the readiness to exploit voter discontent over public debt without any willingness to propose how to pay it off, especially when it was his party at the national level that racked up a majority of that debt. Reflexive Republican opposition to new spending would not be so hard to take seriously if there were any sign that national Republicans were trying to eliminate the debt they and their predecessors left us. There are few signs of this, and Brown is not giving us any reason to think he takes this problem seriously.

Granted, this is a candidate’s op-ed the week before an election. No one expects him to lay out a detailed budget proposal. After all, even the House Republican leadership has difficulty doing that during budget negotiations! Brown is also running in Massachusetts, so I wouldn’t expect him to make radical calls for eliminating entitlement programs. Brown does at least save us the irritation of telling us how all of our budgets problems can be fixed by cutting out “wasteful spending” and earmarks, but he could offer one or two examples of a progam or department he thinks could be reduced or abolished. As it is, there is nothing.

Where I think the charge of “Romney-like cynicism” sticks is in Brown’s desire to have it both ways on health care. He voted for MassCare, which means that he endorsed the state’s individual insurance mandate, and now that he is trying to leave town he makes noises about controlling cost, which was something the legislature did not even attempt to address when the bill passed. Controlling cost is something a system with a universal mandate cannot do.

The federal legislation Brown opposes is not that different from the Massachusetts bill he supported. He sees the federal bill as a fiscal disaster, so how can he really say that he still supports the state system when it shares some of the flaws of the federal legislation he rejects? He says this because he assumes MassCare is popular enough in the state and because he is on record supporting it, but he also knows that he cannot possibly win Republican and conservative backing if he gave any hint that he might support Democratic health care legislation in Washington. The trouble here is that he does not admit that supporting MassCare was mistaken, as he might, nor does he say that he has learned from the flawed product the state legislature created, which might help make sense of his record and his current position on the federal bill. Instead, he wants to have it all by retaining his moderate Republican record to assuage uncertain independent voters while affirming his party-line opposition to the federal health care bill.

Come to think of it, this is not quite Romney-like cynicism, because at least Romney has pretended to change positions as electoral circumstances demanded. Brown is trying to occupy both sides of the health care debate at the same time even as he seems to claim that there is no contradiction in doing so. Both Massachusetts voters and national Republicans have reason to wonder which side he will eventually take when it comes time to vote on the bill. Most likely, as a freshman Senator he will fall in line with whatever the leadership says. He is being quite plain about his opposition to the federal bill, but I wonder whether voters will find his inevitable party-line voting to be at odds with his claim to represent “all independent-thinking citizens.”