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.