I remain completely baffled about the mindset of non-partisan budget hawks. Jonathan Cohn has a great post up today about the complete lack or credit budget hawks gave Barack Obama and the Democrats for making the painful (for them!) choice to place budget responsibility at the core of their health care reform effort. As Cohn points out, Democrats gave up some of their core substantive concern (universal coverage) and sacrificed quite a bit of surface political gain in order to finance expanded coverage in the short and medium run, and to at least attempt to put both government and private health costs on a sound footing in the longer run. And yet budget scolds pretty much either ignored it, or criticized it on the basis that future Congresses might repeal those tough measures.
This is nothing new. Budget scolds gave little if any credit to Bill Clinton and the Democrats for cutting the deficit in 1993. They didn't give a whole lot of credit to George H.W. Bush and Congressional Democrats for their budget deal, either -- and they did little to identify Newt Gingrich and other conservatives as the main opponents of both deals, and therefore as the primary supporters of large deficits.
As I said, I continue to be baffled by it.
I have two guesses.
One is that there's a high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and the impulse to have equal and balanced contempt for both major political parties. If that's the case, then it may be difficult for budget scolds to accept that, as things stand now, one party is for huge budget deficits forever and the other party more or less attempts to pay for what it spends.
The other is that there's a high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and being world-historically stupid. We know that conservatives -- the group who have supported larger and larger deficits for thirty years now -- are also the party known for giving the loudest lip service to the idea of a balanced budget. Perhaps most budget scolds aren't bright enough to get that it's just empty rhetoric.
As always, I'll point out that I'm not for balanced budgets at all, and find the standard anti-deficit assumptions built in to almost everything written about the budget (such as the NYT thing over the weekend) to be a classic example of media bias.