Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fight Smoke With Smoke

Great items from Matt Yglesias this morning on a favorite substantive subject of his, the budget deficit. First, he bashes deficit fetishists in the Senate, and then he correctly reminds the Obama Administration (again) that "The politics here are all about getting the policy right."
In brass tacks political terms, however, a substantial deficit in 2010 is inevitable either way. The question is whether it’s a substantial deficit that voters will find forgivable thanks to the robust economic recovery and falling unemployment, or if it’s a substantial deficit that voters deem intolerable thanks to an anemic recovery and high, flat unemployment.
Perfect. Now, I can add two things to this.

First, and to some extent contra Yglesias, I think the idea of a deficit commission isn't a terrible one...provided that it's carefully structured to do nothing for at least a couple of years. The (short-term) deficit issue is, as far as I can tell from reading what economists say, entirely a symbolic political problem, and so it calls for an entirely symbolic political "solution." This is actually pretty easy to accomplish; just make sure that Republicans on the commission have a veto, and make sure that the Republicans on the commission have to be approved by Grover Norquist. Such commissioners will insist that any deficit reduction must begin with cutting taxes; since in the real world that's a bunch of malarkey, the commission will be deadlocked.

Second, I don't know that anything can be done about this because it's all about what's inside one politician's head...but I'm very confident that everyone in California would be far better off with Dianne Feinstein as governor than with Jerry Brown reprising his disastrous two terms, and certainly liberals would be a lot happier with a different Democratic Senator. In my view, California liberals should be doing whatever they can to make that happen.

I can't leave this without quoting Matt's best bit:
Realistically the best use of [TARP] funds might be semi-corrupt pork barrel projects designed to persuade key legislators to stop threatening the country with a debt default and start voting “yes” on key legislation. We could build a giant golden calf in Indiana in place of the false God of fiscal austerity. And as I’ve had occasion to note in the past, the administration has arguably been too eager to ask what substantive policy concessions Olympia Snowe wants and unduly reluctant to ask what our country can do for the lobster industry.

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