In any case, it's worth keeping in mind that the entire conservative apparatus is already cranked up to insist that no tax hikes are acceptable in the pursuit of deficit reduction. I see no way around this problem unless and until the country actually begins to undergo a deficit-created economic calamity.I think he's correct that "grand bargain" deficit reduction, involving tax increases, slashed entitlement spending, and receiving majority support from both parties in Congress, is very unlikely. It worked during the George H.W. Bush administration, but the lesson Republicans took from that was never, ever, to support tax increases again -- and, moreover, that voters are indifferent to deficits.
However, while grand bargain deficit reduction appears unlikely, partisan deficit reduction is not only easy to imagine -- it just happened! Democrats obsessed with Republican opposition to taxes forget that the real long-term deficit problem is primarily about health care costs to the federal government, and while the ACA (I guess I'll join everyone in using that, although I'm open to better ideas) doesn't solve that problem, it does, CBO says, put a dent in it.
Moreover, this isn't some sort of weird aberration. The last time the Democrats had unified government, they also passed a major deficit reduction package. In fact, the history of that one is a lot like the current situation. In 1993-1994, Republicans claimed that the Clinton deficit reduction package would actually explode the deficit and ruin the economy. Of course, the fact that conservatives were wrong in the 1990s doesn't mean that they're wrong this time...but the arguments are mostly the same, in that they mostly involve just asserting that there's no way that the ACA could possibly reduce the deficit (I agree with Chait, Ezra Klein, and others that the "doc fix" claim doesn't fly at all as a case against the CBO score).
The truth of that matter is that for at least twenty years, and really more like thirty-five years, the Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility and the Republicans are the party of deficits. That's complicated a bit because Democrats also are the party of Keynesian economics, and therefore do believe in running deficits during recessions -- but that's not incompatible with fiscal responsibility. It's especially true at the presidential level; Carter, Clinton, and Obama were all fiscal conservatives, while Reagan and George W. Bush were obviously not. But it's increasingly true in Congress, as the Baker/Dole/Domenici wing of conservatives has been replaced by the Newt-inspired radicals. We even have a nice break point, the defeat of the rule on the Bush/Wright deficit reduction package by the Newt rebels.
The other thing that complicates things is that the rhetoric of deficit reduction has virtually nothing to do with behavior. So not only do Republicans talk more about deficits than Democrats, but the Democrats who talk about deficits the most -- the Blue Dogs -- tend to be less fiscally conservative than mainstream liberals, with the latter supporting ACA and Clinton's deficit reduction package much more than did the moderates.
My guess? If Obama is reelected with solid Democratic majorities in Congress, and the economy is reasonably strong, there's a good chance that there will be a deficit reduction plan similar in spirit to the 1993 and 1990 packages, and it will pass without any Republican support. There's also a good chance of further deficit-reducing health care reform, including the deficit-reducing public option. On the other hand, if Republicans win back Congress and the White House in 2012, I expect cosmetic spending cuts along with significant tax cuts, yielding larger deficits (and I wouldn't bet heavily on net spending cuts). As I've said before, I'm not advocating one way or another on this -- I'm not a deficit hawk, myself. But it seems clear to me that the path to deficit reduction for those who do care about it is Democratic control, rather than hoping for a grand bargain that in effect asks pro-deficit Republicans to surrender to anti-deficit Democrats.