The presidential campaigns stalking horse is big, yellow and not much of a horse at all.
Its Big Bird, the Sesame Street character.
I like PBS, I love Big Bird, Republican Mitt Romney said at least weeks debate. But Im not going to . . . keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.
Feathers officially ruffled, liberals donned Big Bird costumes in protest as Romney stumped from Virginia to Florida. Before Romneys St. Petersburg speech, a Big Bird-suited protestor battled another dressed up as a giant Romney.
Crack down on Wall Street, not Sesame Street, read one sign held by a liberal feather-suited angry bird.
In the context of a presidential election, this can seem silly and small.
But thats a good thing.
Silly things can grab the publics attention more than, say, the implications of Medicaid. Small issues are digestible.
Theres now a fluffy, yellow, easy-to-recognize face that symbolizes the fiscal mess the country is in and the difficulties of getting out of it. Try to cut a government program and youll be told 1) it wont do anything or 2) it will be catastrophic.
PBS defenders were quick to note during Wednesdays debate that PBS doesnt get all of its money from the federal government and that cutting the $445 million that flows to public television and radio stations would amount to trimming .012 percent of the nearly $3.8 trillion federal budget.
Bottom line: It wouldnt make much of a difference to debt or deficit. So leave it alone.
That argument from the left is strikingly similar, in broad terms, to what the right says about President Barack Obamas plans to reinstate Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthy that its not enough to bring down the deficit (about $1.3 trillion) or the overall debt ($16 trillion).
Still, the value of Obamas tax increases wouldnt be chicken scratch either: $56.3 billion or about 126 times the deficit-saving worth of eliminating public-broadcasting money.
Republicans are quick to say that Obamas tax increases would slow economic growth and be counterproductive. Democrats respond by saying that the economy was doing quite well under Clinton and that the tax increases wont hurt job creation.
The hackle-raising over Big Bird is just one of hundreds of millions of fights that erupt whenever the government tries to cut a program. Every government dollar has a constituency.
And Republicans have their own sacred bird . . . er .. . cows.
Under a budget deal last year in Congress, Republicans and Democrats agreed to automatic spending cuts that would make a serious dent in the debt, starting next January. But that would mean big cuts to many government programs, including defense, which could shoulder a 9.4 percent reduction.
Republicans say thats bad for the countrys security. And it could be bad for Florida, according to a George Mason University estimate that found the state could lose 41,905 jobs and sustain $3.6 billion in economic losses due to the defense cuts.
Big Bird, meet Raytheon.
The Congressional Budget Office found that Congress deficit-reduction plan would probably send the country plunging back into recession and cause the unemployment rate to tick up to about 9.1 percent from its current rate of 7.8 percent.