The Federal Budget

CHRIS PUMMER: It’s fair to ask if Democrats will ever have a serious plan for balancing the federal budget. Lacking the spine to even let tax cuts for the super-rich expire, they are also quick to point to Republicans as side that wants to cut entitlements that comprise the bulk of government spending.

That said, raising taxes and cutting spending are both necessary to balance the budget. And if you are looking for seriousness on that issue, don’t bother casting a glance at the GOP.

Whatever picture you draw from the budget proposed by President Obama, and how realistic you think the might be, they certainly aren’t the pure fantasy that Rep. Paul Ryan and the Republicans are pushing.

The criticisms are already out there, so there’s no sense rehashing the fact that even steeper tax cuts for the wealthy will blow out the national deficit farther than alarmists decry Obama for doing with stimulus or other spending.

In that, however, the GOP doesn’t have a solution for the alleged problem. Just one for a particular worldview that most voters don’t share. If that weren’t the case, so many Republicans wouldn’t be scrambling for political cover from accusations (or truths, as we’d say in absolute terms) that they want to gut Medicare.

Not that it isn’t an option. And if voters want entitlement programs, they’ll eventually have to also swallow the cost of such programs.

Neither side seems very serious about addressing it in as blunt terms.

DAN SZYMBORSKI:  With the current budgetary battle between the Republicans and Democrats, one has to mark 2011 on their calendar as the year the major parties both went off the reservation.

Of course, budget battles (and all political battles) have been full of imaginary figures and rank dishonesty since forever.  But with both the major budget proposals, even each party’s individual delusions about their budget proposals are inadequate.  When you’ve reached the point at which even the LSD-fueled hallucinations of the results of your budgets are inadequate, there’s something new and serious going on.

The biggest problem is that the Republicans and Democrats have finally convinced the vast majority of Americans to believe their respective messages.  So now we have a populace that wants to simultaneously lower the deficit, pay less taxes, and receive more and better services.

The ugly truth is that we’re in serious trouble.  The short-term worries about inflation are extremely overwrought, but the long-term fundamentals are absolutely terrible.  Right now, our low borrowing interest rates are based on the fact that our crappy debt is less crappy than the rest of the world’s crappy debt.  That’s not a formula for long-term stability – anything that can’t go on forever won’t.

The reality is, to get the problem under control, we’re going to have to make savage cuts, greater than the median Republican wants and raise taxes more than the average Democrat wants.  We’ve already gotten to the point where it’s difficult to apply Keynesian stimulus – Keynes advocating counter-cyclical spending, but never envisioned the cycle of “horrifying deficits in bad times, slightly less horrifying deficits in good times.”  We are far past the point where a program being desirable is justification for it existing and far past the point where we can spare anybody a large tax increase.

If Ryan’s woefully inadequate budget proposal or Obama’s woefully inadequate budget sorta-proposal are the best we can do, we, as a nation, don’t deserve any prosperity.

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