If the Republicans who say they care deeply about the existential threats of federal deficits and federal debt really cared, you’d think they’d point with pride to the numbers in this chart, showing the deficit cut nearly in half over the last five years. They might acknowledge at an improving economy reduces deficits by bringing in more revenue and that tax increases – like, for instance, the payroll tax hike that kicked in after the fiscal cliff deal – reduce deficits, hence the need to borrow.
Give them some truth serum and they might even admit that things are looking better for the U.S. economy, especially compared to the rest of the world. Eugene Robinson makes that care here.
But I don’t think Republicans really care about deficits or debt. If it was so important, they would be able to find a single revenue opportunity – closing a loophole, raising a tax or fee – to trade for cuts in spending. Yeah, I know they believe to the marrow in their bones that Washington’s problem is too much spending, not a shortage of revenue. But if the threat is serious, you find a way to reach agreement. You give up something small in order to get something big. They won’t do that, because it’s all about politics and messaging, not about policies and results.
A conference committee is at last meeting to consider reconciling the Senate and House budget resolutions. My fear is the only thing Republican conferees will agree to are moves on the spending side. They will agree to soften the impact of the sequester cuts in their favored areas if Democrats will agree to make up the money in cuts elsewhere. Put more specifically: They will agree to increased defense spending in return for chained CPI for Social Security benefits. They will balance the budget on the backs of America’s retirees.
Will the Democrats let that happen?