Which Party is Better on the Deficit, Revisited

While we’re on the subject of hotly disputed stuff I said a while back, it might be a good time to revisit an old question: which party is better on the deficit?  My answer, in 2010, was that I didn’t trust either party farther than I could spit a rat:

. . . while I worry about Republicans passing irresponsible tax cuts, I worry equally about Democrats passing irresponsible spending programs that pay lip-service to the notion of deficit reduction, while in fact making it more likely that America will end up in a crisis.  You can argue that American really needed health care reform, but the Republicans would say the same about tax cuts.  At that point, you’re obviously not that interested in the deficit; you’re simply saying that the stuff my side wants to do is worth risking the country’s financial future, while the stuff the other side wants to do isn’t.  Okay, maybe, but that isn’t going to make the resulting deficit any less . . . um . . . deficit-like.

So I worry that if Republicans get in, we’ll end up with a huge budget problem.  And I also worry that if Democrats retain control, we’ll end up with a huge budget problem.  I see no evidence at this point that I should worry more about one than the other.  We have a huge deficit problem.  And I’m pretty sure that whatever batch of politicians we elect next Tuesday is going to make it worse, rather than better.

The consensus view, among folks who had voted for Barack Obama, was that this was crazytown.  Democrats had, after all, been so concerned about passing a health care bill that closed the deficit.  Republicans, on the other hand, had passed all those budget-busting tax cuts.

I said at the time that I didn’t think that Democrats actually cared about deficit reduction as much as they cared about saying that their cherished health care bill reduced the deficit.  A bill that the CBO scored as increasing the deficit was politically deadly.  But a bill which actually increased the deficit, but scored as if it didn’t because it was stuffed to the gills with wildly improbable payfors . . .

Current events seem to bear this out.  Has anyone changed their mind about the wisdom of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as the “deficit reducing” components have been steadily . . . er . . . reduced?  Hardly.  Is anyone wondering whether we should scotch the thing now that the employer mandate is looking shaky?  Of course not.  If it turns out that the law costs $100 billion or so extra a year, what percentage of its supporters will declare it wasn’t worth it?  Would zero percent be too high?

Of course I’m not accusing the Democrats of anything special.  Republicans had of course already proven that they cared about the deficit only when they were out of power; when they held the reins of government, it was time for the nonstop all-night tax cutting party. Last one into the pooled income deduction is a rotten egg!

Almost no one cares about the deficit . . . when it conflicts with some nifty tax cut or spending bill they’ve long-cherished hopes of passing.  To the extent that the deficit is headed to reasonable levels, it will not happen because either Democrats or Republicans are willing to sacrifice pet projects for the sake of fiscal responsibility; it will be because neither side will allow the other to enact their pet projects.

15 thoughts on “Which Party is Better on the Deficit, Revisited

  1. I heard today that Republicans requested that CBO score ACA again. I’m kind of looking forward to reading that analysis.

    • It would be great to have an official revised score.

      As someone pointed out in one of the other comment threads, they’ve been collecting extra taxes to pay for Obamacare for four years now. Would those revenues count? After all, I’m sure they’re in a lock box somewhere, right? We can ask Al Gore if we can’t find the boxes.

  2. The problem is that in practice, the elite factions in each party are more likely to enable each other’s pet projects. There’s a lot more private agreement on agenda between the GOP and Dems than either wants to admit, most visibly on things like amnesty, but it’s present elsewhere, too. If you note the modern-day history of ‘bipartisanship’, it almost always means the two parties coming together to do something deeply unpopular.

  3. To the extent that the deficit is headed to reasonable levels, it will not happen because either Democrats or Republicans are willing to sacrifice pet projects for the sake of fiscal responsibility; it will be because neither side will allow the other to enact their pet projects.

    So, in short, our constitutional republic (to pull a term from IT implementations) is working as designed.

  4. it will be because neither side will allow the other to enact their pet projects

    If it will ever come to be, it will be because the runaway train runs into a particularly massive brick wall. Remind me to jump off at the nearest haystack.

  5. Bit of a false equivalence, isn’t it? No country ever tax-cut its way into a sovereign debt crisis. Many have spent their way there. Only one side of the debate is dealing with existence of natural limits.

    • False equivalence is McMegan’s stock in trade. You really can’t keep a MSM job unless you adopt one of two memes: (i) the Republicans are monsters or (ii) both parties are equally irresponsible. McMegan has chosen the latter as her basic shtick.

  6. Deficits and debts don’t matter at all, until it’s time to pay the piper and there is a better alternative out there to take your business.

  7. The CBO score on ACA told anyone who actually read and understood it that it wouldn’t reduce the deficit. People like Ezra Klein just flat out lied about the text.

  8. The problem is that neither side wants to fatten frogs for snakes, if you see what I mean.

    Debt is what happens when both sides get tired of the current round of chicken and decide not to play it any more, giving both sides at least some of what they want.

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