Conservatives Don’t Care About the Deficit

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"Conservatives Don’t Care About the Deficit"

Edmund Andrews reports on a meeting of the Pew-Peterson Commission on Budget Reform that didn’t go so well:

You could see where this was going. For all the earnestness, Holtz-Eakin was already echoing Mitch McConnell’s support’ for a “bipartisan “spending commission.” In other words: tax increases aren’t really on the table. And we shouldn’t be surprised: Holtz-Eakin has recently been tapped by prominent GOP types to start a Republican-oriented think tank to help counter Democratic-leaning shops like John Podesta’s Center for American Progress.

As it happened, Podesta was on the stage as well. He was polite too, but he made a point in his opening remarks of blaming the deficits almost entirely on George W. Bush — the tax cuts, the two unfunded wars, the unfunded prescription drug program for Medicare. It was pretty much a straight recital of White House talking points.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that Bush and the Republican congress bear a huge responsibility — the bulk of the responsibility — for today’s deficits. But if a bipartisan group of self-proclaimed budget wonks — a practice commission, if you will — is already parroting party lines, just imagine how much harder the lines will be when the real commission tries to hash things out.

I’m going to have to stand up for my boss here and call “foul” on this. Andrews posits an equivalence between Podesta and Holtz-Eakin on the grounds that both Podesta and Holtz-Eakin are “parroting party lines.” In Podesta’s case, he seems especially upset that his remarks resembled “a straight recital of White House talking points.” But a funny thing happened on the way to the recital: Andrews thinks Podesta’s remarks were correct.

The problem with Holtz-Eakin’s remarks, by contrast, is that like all mainstream American conservatives he’s not interested in reducing the deficit. Rather, he supports lower taxes and lower spending. This is why deficits exploded under George W Bush’s watch and also under Ronald Reagan’s watch. It’s not “irresponsibility” or some mistake; rather, conservative policymakers are not interested in the question of how large the deficit is, they’re interested in cutting taxes on the rich.

And to see the real problem with the politics of fiscal policy, you need to look not at Podesta’s remarks but at Andrews’ reaction to them. If two parties meet around a table to recite talking points and one party’s talking points are true whereas the other party’s talking points are false, then the referees in the press need to make a big deal out of that fact. But instead of noting that Podesta offered accurate remarks that echo the White House’s accurate remarks, whereas Holtz-Eakin outlined a position that makes deficit reduction impossible, Andrews chooses to act as if being right and being wrong are equivalently bad since when one guy is right and the other guy is wrong the prospects for agreement are low.


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