Thursday, March 17, 2011


I'm certainly with Kevin Drum and not with Andrew Sullivan on this one. Sullivan:
But you can't get anywhere near fiscal balance by slashing domestic discretionary spending. What we see here is the total failure of the president to make the case for fiscal reform and the utter failure of the Republicans to be honest with the public about what needs to be done.
So on this question, Americans have rightly observed that there is now little difference between Obama and the GOP on the deficit. Both parties are utterly unserious. And neither wants to take the heat for being honest.
But as Drum points out, Barack Obama has, in fact, taken on long-term health care costs. Enough for Sullivan's tastes? Surely not -- but clearly Obama fought hard for the cost containment he got, and fought (and was defeated) for more. And he took "the heat" for it. On taxes, there's a huge difference between Obama and the GOP. Again, I don't think Obama's position is Sullivan's (or Drum's, or Jonathan Chait's -- all three, I believe, would like to see Clinton-era tax rates restored, while Obama wants to keep Bush-era rates for most taxpayers), so I'm not saying that Sullivan shouldn't, from his perspective, attack Obama on the deficit. I can even see, again from his perspective, faulting the president's " make the case" for deficit reduction (as regular readers know, I'm mostly not for deficit reduction, so I think it's a good thing that Obama doesn't make that case).

But to say that Obama is "utterly unserious" about the deficit is hogwash. He fought for and passed a huge deficit-reducing ACA, when it would have been far more popular to just go the W. route and not bother paying for it. For better or worse, he's adopted fiscal conservatism as a public goal. And he has to deal with a Republican Party that uses maximal anti-deficit language while supporting budget-busting plan after budget-busting plan.

It sure seems to me that serious deficit hawks (and again, I'm a deficit realist, not a deficit idealist, so it's not my battle) should come down very, very hard on the side of the president and against the Republicans. As far as I can see, it's exactly similar to the choice faced by supporters of universal health care on whether to strongly support Obama on ACA, even though it fell far short of what they really wanted. The difference is that on health care, only a small fringe wound up throwing up their hands and saying that there was little difference; on the deficit, virtually the entire budget hawk establishment takes a pox-on-both-their-houses approach, instead of realizing which side is their real ally and taking a support-but-criticize position in favor of the Democrats. I know, I know -- you're all going to tell me that the deficit hawks aren't really deficit hawks, but are really just plotting to eliminate social security. I don't think that's correct...but I will agree that it is the effect of their odd acceptance of false equivalence on the issue.

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