To the best of my knowledge, Chuck Grassley is among the best-informed, most-reasonable Republican Senators. He also seems to have gone completely around the bend of late. Now, he’s getting on board the bandwagon calling for a three-year “spending freeze”, the sort of proposal I’m used to hearing from know-nothings like Jim DeMint or John McCain, folks with no understanding of or interest in, policy questions. Pat Garofalo reminds us that “A freeze would have the ‘dramatic effect’ of providing dangerous anti-stimulus at the precise moment when stimulus is needed most.” David Brooks has rightly termed this effort “insane”.
On the merits, it makes no sense whatsoever to worry about short-term deficits, so a short-term spending freeze is ridiculous. Since interest rates are low at the moment and economic projections uncertain, I also wouldn’t put a high priority on worrying about the CBO’s long-term projections regarding the Obama administration’s budget. But if Republicans want to freak out about this in an honest way, they could recognize the need for more revenue. Alternatively, they could propose making Social Security less generous or propose some kind of arbitrary cap on Medicaid spending. Also alternatively, you can propose a boring-sounding technical fix like starting to use the C-CPI-U index both for the indexing of tax rates and for the indexing of Social Security benefits — that would have the result of both raising income taxes and cutting Social Security benefits, but doing so in a very confusing way that might elude public scrutiny.
I don’t think any of that stuff is really necessary at the moment, but any of it would actually address the concern about long-term deficits. A short-term spending freeze, by contrast, would just help drive the economy into the ditch and make long-term problems worse.