Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Don't Panic! (Budget Edition)

I recommend to everyone, especially those who believe that Obama/Reid/Biden/Boehner/McConnell are about to sell them down the river, an excellent column by Stan Collender. He reminds us that rumors about current negotiations are part of the process, and frequently ill-founded:
This is a routine part of the federal budget debate and the fiscal equivalent of one of the five stages of grief.
I first noticed it during the Andrews Air Force Base budget summit in 1990, when I received a series of calls from people inside and outside the Beltway who could not possibly know what was actually happening...For the record, my phone started to ring just as the Andrews summit was beginning — that is, while some of the negotiators were making opening statements and others were still trying to find the bathroom. It’s also important to note that virtually none of these “my-budget-sky-is-falling” concerns turned out to be true.
It is, indeed, quite logical that these rumors get started.

First of all, advocates have an interest in sowing concern on their side, the better to motivate their forces to storm the barricades in order to prevent whatever deal they don't want to get made. The rational time for such fears is relatively early in the process, when things really are unsettled.

Second, the nature of budget summitry is that each side is about to have to give up something it cares about to reach a deal. That's outrageous! After all, we won the election; why are we giving in?

Third, remember the Iron Law of Politics that everyone believes that the other side is better at the mechanics of politics. Or, as Ezra Klein put it a while back: "everyone always thinks everyone else is efficiently and ruthlessly carrying out complicated plans. Partisans are very good at recognizing disarray and incompetence on their side of the aisle, but they tend to think the other side is intimidatingly capable and unburdened by scruples or normal human vulnerabilities." If that's what you believe, then it's easy to concoct and believe rumors that your side is about to give away the store.

Now, all that said, I think that those who are arguing today that the Democrats blundered on this one are basically correct (here, for example, is Matt Yglesias). But the blunder was last year, not this year -- or, really, I'd say the blunder was in 2009. Yes, 2009. The Democrats should have realized that year that they had 60 Senate seats and a large Democratic majority in the House and that those conditions would not last (yes, they couldn't have predicted losing Ted Kennedy's seat, but youneverknow), and been far more aggressive about clearing off the calendar some of the relatively easy items that were going to be trouble if they left them for the future.

What the Democrats did in 2009 and early 2010 was to approve short-term increases. What they should have done was  to tack on either a total elimination of the debt ceiling or, failing that, a truly monstrous extension, something that could safely get them through at least the 2012 election and perhaps farther. It might have taken presidential leadership to get them there, but it was a bullet worth biting. I'm skeptical that anyone really cares about the deficit, anyway, but I find it particularly unlikely that anyone who would otherwise have been open to voting for Obama (or for Democrats in 2010) despite record-setting deficits would have balked at the debt ceiling increase.

As far as the negotiations right now: I'm taking Collender's advice, and I'm not going to grade anyone until we see what really does happen.

1 comment:

  1. But, if we don't panic, we won't put the pressure on that the interest groups we support are asking us to.
    So, ironically, being informed, we should be OVERreacting!


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