Last night, Phil Klein at the DC Examiner pointed out that come the next round of spending cuts, the tenative debt deal now before Congress will set the GOP:
No doubt, we'll start to see more and more opposition from conservative defense hawks to slashing the military budget, while the Norquist crowd will continue to push Republicans to accept more defense cuts to avoid any increase in taxes.
This is likely to be the opening of significant debate among conservatives that will likely continue for decades to come, given the increasing pressure posed by entitlements.
I think this is right. But I also think it's true of the Democrats: they are going to face unprecedented conflicts between their constituencies in the decades to come. Fundamentally, we're bumping up against the willingness of the American public to pay more taxes, or accept spending cuts. Some constituencies are going to lose. Republicans are going to have to decide whether they'd rather have lower taxes, or a stronger military. And Democrats are going to have to decide who they care about more: old people, or poor people.
I know, you want to say the answer is "both"! But those aren't in the solution set. If you want a stronger military, you need to pay for it. And if you want a state that keeps every old person in comfort, you're going to end up paying for it by gutting the parts of the welfare state that provide for people who don't vote much. If you think that we're going to somehow engineer a world in which we have either a military and welfare system the size of Canada's, or a military the size of the WWII Soviet Union's, with an entitlement system the size of Somalia's, you are not taking into account an American public that likes soldiers, and Medicare.
Me, I'd like a single entitlement system that takes care of people who are actually destitute and unable to work, not this mad scheme whereby America's middle class is supposed to get rich by picking its own pockets. You, dear reader, probably have other ideas. But whatever your ideas, you cannot assume the voters away. They are going to get in the way of your quest for the ideal world. So parties are going to have to start thinking about which constituencies they want to sell out in order to preserve the important core.