Monday, March 28, 2011

Millions

For those who want to understand the conservative view that I've described as a "war on budgeting" please see a basically honest description of the GOP approach to budgeting and deficits by Keith Hennessey. I recommend reading it through, but the gist of it is that there are (in his, and the GOP view) two sides to the fiscal coin: the budget deficit, and the total size of government spending...and that the latter is the fight that matters the most:
We think we’re fighting about the deficit, when in reality the deep philosophical and political divide in America is mostly about the relative sizes of government versus the private sector.
Nothing literally dishonest about that...but it's a way of framing the issue that solidly downplays the importance of the deficit, and allows deficit-busting Republicans to think of themselves as "fiscally conservative" no matter how large they want the deficit to be. That is, it's a very small step from where Hennessey is to "deficits don't matter." After all, Hennessey says, "Almost all elected officials of both parties will tell you (and believe) that deficits are bad." Well, he's right that they'll all tell you that, and it's even possible that they all believe it, but the truth for the last thirty years or more has been that most of the ones with the big "R" next to their names have supported policies that yield large deficits, while most of the ones with the big "D" next to their names have supported policies that reduce or close those deficits.

Hennessey understands the budget process -- and GOP budget rhetoric -- as well as anyone, so he's a good source for these things.

11 comments:

  1. Republicans want smaller government for a number of reasons -- reducing the deficit is just one of them. Democrats want higher taxes for a number of reasons -- reducing the deficit is just one of them. Philosophically, solving the deficit problem isn’t anyone’s priority, it’s just a mess that we now have to deal with.

    “…but the truth for the last thirty years or more has been that most of the ones with the big "R" next to their names have supported policies that yield large deficits, while most of the ones with the big "D" next to their names have supported policies that reduce or close those deficits.”

    I’m not convinced that the Democrats have a better way forward. We need more significant reform than tinkering with taxes and spending and Democratic support for Obama’s deficit commission report was practically nonexistent.

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  2. "Democrats want higher taxes for a number of reasons -- reducing the deficit is just one of them."

    Is the claim that Democrats would increase taxes even if it were just to save the money? That they would still want to impose high taxes even if there were nothing to spend it on?

    That is ludicrous.

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  3. Tybalt -- There’s no shortage of government activities that Democrats would like to spend more money on (the same goes for Republicans, but that’s another story). Democrats generally want a more active government, which requires higher taxes to fund it.

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  4. Couves,

    I don't know if the Dems have a "better way forward," but I do know that they've consistently (for ~30 years) pushed for lower deficits. Why, I don't know. It might be that Dems think that government should work and that therefore they want to fund what they do; it may be that they're just foolishly (IMO) under the belief that deficits are bad for the nation...I have no idea. But I do think it's pretty clear that for 30 years now, at any particular time, Democrats have been for a policy set that calls for and actually produces -- all things held equal -- much, much lower deficits than what GOP policies do.

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  5. "[W]hile most of the ones with the big 'D' next to their names have supported policies that reduce or close those deficits"

    Is this really true? I'll buy that the most influential segment of the Dem party is the budget hawks, but I'm skeptical that that describes the majority position. I don't know if there's an honest-to-goodness budget hawk caucus we could look at, but if we use the Blue Dogs as a proxy then there was never more than 1/4th of the House Dems who were budget hawks.

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  6. It hasn't been, really, the Blue Dogs, but combine them with the others, and that's what you had. The Dems (and Senate GOPers) pushed Reagan to raise taxes in 1982; they supported (against conservative Republicans) the Bush deficit plan in 1990; they did the Clinton deficit-ending deal in 1993; they mostly opposed the Bush tax cuts in 01 and 03; they almost all supported ACA in 2010.

    It's true that individual Dems at times embraced deficit-raising policies, but overall they've consistently pushed plans to cut the deficit. Not always with tax increases, either; don't forget that ACA had significant Medicare cuts.

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  7. “I don't know if the Dems have a ‘better way forward,’”

    But that’s the more important question. History is useful if we’re trying to decide who to blame for our current problems, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us who can solve them. No one was completely happy with Obama’s deficit commission report, but the greatest pushback came from the Democratic leadership.

    “it may be that they're just foolishly (IMO) under the belief that deficits are bad for the nation…”

    They’re not always bad. But at this rate the next bubble to burst may well be our federal budget.

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  8. Couves,

    The Dems want to phase out some of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, keep ACA in place, keep and mostly enforce PAYGO, and a bunch of small stuff.

    Republicans want to keep those tax cuts, repeal ACA, strip PAYGO, and a bunch of small stuff.

    Add those up, and the Dems are for much smaller deficits.

    And my guess is that the most leftward Dems are for the lowest deficits; they would probably get rid of all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts; add a public option to ACA, cut the Pentagon significantly...and then add some fairly significant spending. How that adds up would vary for different people, but as I said odds are it's the lowest deficit.

    If we actually wind up having real budget resolution votes in the House, my guess is the CBC budget (traditionally, the leftmost alternative) will have the lowest deficit. It usually does, IIRC.

    I don't know what it means to call the budget a "bubble."

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  9. great find.

    Given 75% of our budget problems are tax cuts, the automatic D pressure for more taxes makes them "deficit hawks." I agree that since 2000 that probably has gone down a bit.

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  10. Jonathan, thanks for the post and for the clarifying debate with Couves.

    Couves, thanks for pushing Jonathan to clarify the history he relies on. For many liberals, it is precisely this history over the past generation (every major deficit-reducing law enacted with strong Democratic support, every major deficit-increasing law enacted over strong Democratic opposition) that leads us to pull our hair out with frustration at well-meaning and sincere moderates (as well as disingenuous pundits) who think Republicans have "credibility" as deficit hawks.

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  11. "I don't know what it means to call the budget a 'bubble.'"

    My concern is that we could end up like Greece or Portugal. There was enough concern about this in the UK that the Lib-Con coalition was able to pass some fairly ambitious reform.

    I share the Republicans’ skepticism that ACA or the public option will actually save us any money.

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