Claiming Victory

Phoenix Woman at Daily Kos wants everyone to calm down about Robert Rubin’s invitation to speak to the House Democratic caucus on the subject of fiscal responsibility. Max Sawicky objects, making some goods points en passant about the netroots’ weakness for what David Sirota has labeled “partisan war syndrome”. That said, this from Sawicky — “Let’s hope from that quarter that we don’t start hearing calls to shift troops from Iraq to Iran, or how we need to fix Social Security by cutting benefits (Rubin’s special interest)” — makes me wonder.

I’m not sure where one gets the idea that Rubin has a particular passion for cutting Social Security benefits. Read, for example, his November 9 speech to the Economic Club of Washington and you’ll find no advocacy of Social Security cuts. Rather, the headline out of his speech was “Former US Treasury chief Rubin says tax rises needed” based on progressive-friendly claims like “I think if you were to increase taxes right now, you would have probably about zero negative effect on the economy.”

This is not to deny that there’s a real deficit-related disagreement between Rubin and Sawicky here. Max thinks there’s no problem with running a budget deficit of around 2-3 percent of GDP, whereas Rubin believes that in light of projected entitlement-related spending increases in the future we should be trying to run a budget surplus in the present day. I don’t, however, see a disagreement about Social Security benefits. Which is to agree with Ezra that I think there’s a tendency on both sides of the intra-Democratic economic policy debate to overstate the degree of operational disagreement. I think there is a lot of disagreement about economic policy in the Kingdom of Ends and disagreement of that sort matters, but should also be kept in perspective. The policy status quo is well to the right and both sides ought to be able to row together for a while now. In particular, Social Security advocates should note that they’ve more or less won the argument at this point already.