WASHINGTON — Hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington. The long-running debate over taxes and spending, however, is producing especially blatant examples of politicians contradicting themselves or attacking opponents for taking the very stances they’ve taken themselves.
Lawmakers, for instance, denounce the deficit but refuse to let the Postal Service close money-losing offices or end Saturday delivery. They force the Defense Department to maintain weapons systems and military bases — located in their home districts, of course — that the Pentagon wants to end.
Cries of hypocrisy grew so loud Thursday that House Speaker John Boehner got into a public spat with his party’s chief campaign overseer.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., had accused President Barack Obama of “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors” by proposing a slower growth in Social Security benefits in exchange for new revenue hikes. Obama’s new budget plan “really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors,” Walden said.
Political heads turned. Walden chairs the committee responsible for next year’s GOP House campaigns. And Republicans have portrayed themselves as courageous-but-responsible advocates of slowing the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called Walden’s remarks a “flagrantly ridiculous and cynical attempt to disown a proposal that emanated from Republican leaders.”
By midday, Boehner had seen enough. “I’ve made it clear that I disagree with what Chairman Walden said,” the speaker told reporters. In fact, he said, Obama’s “modest reforms” are “the least we must do to begin to solve the problems of Social Security.
The conservative Club for Growth said it will back a Republican challenger to Walden in the next primary because of Walden’s “opposition to even modest entitlement reform.”
The issue infuriates Democrats, whom some Republicans accused of “gutting Medicare” during the 2010 congressional elections. Republicans based their claims on scheduled reductions in Medicare payments included in the 2010 “Obamacare” law. Democrats called it an outrageous tactic by a party that repeatedly says Medicare is too expensive.
Some Democrats fear similar attacks next year. Despite Boehner’s reprimand of Walden, those fears might be justified.
In an Associated Press interview in Los Angeles on Thursday, national Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus restated the essence of the 2010 campaign. He said Obama is “the only one in this conversation that’s actually raided Medicare by $800 billion to pay for universal European health care.”
Democrats indulge in hypocrisy, too. In his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, Obama said he would not raise taxes on the middle class or burden the poor. But his proposal for slower growth in federal cost-of-living calculations would not only trim Social Security benefits. It also would slow the growth of tax breaks that mainly help lower-income people.
The president’s proposed cigarette tax increase also would disproportionately hit low-income people. And both parties agreed this year to return the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, to its earlier 6.2 percent rate after a two-year level of 4.2 percent. That took a bite out of every wage earner’s paycheck starting in January.
Many Democratic lawmakers call for more revenue to fight the deficit, and they support higher taxes on couples’ incomes above $250,000.
They denounced a Republican budget plan that they said would “clobber the middle class.”
Their criticisms included a possible tax increase of $1,358 on households earning $100,000. That’s nearly double the nation’s median income, giving a generous meaning to “middle class."
Military budgets often prompt lawmakers to talk of budget cuts in the abstract while defending specific, disputed programs.
Last July the Republican-controlled House added billions of dollars to the Pentagon budget that Obama proposed.
A pair of lawmakers, one from each party, implored colleagues to trim $72.3 million from the $608 billion military spending bill. They targeted money the National Guard spends to sponsor a NASCAR driver, the Marine Corps spends on Ultimate Fighting Championship, and other military sponsorships from fishing to hot rod racing.
The reception was frosty. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., who supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, said there was "no reason Congress should be telling the Department of Defense where and how to spend money."
Yet Congress often does just that. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended Obama's proposed cuts to the military. He called them the best approach as the Pentagon grapples with smaller, deficit-driven budgets.
Even with the proposed cuts, the United States will spend more on defense than the next 16 largest militaries in the world combined.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington, and Thomas Beaumont in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.