Monday, August 1, 2011

The debt deal: kicking the can down the road

So, after a months-long fight over raising the debt ceiling, we finally have a deal. But what did it accomplish? Not much, according to this Washington Post analysisIn the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham:

“It’s a $3 trillion package that will allow $7 trillion to be added to the deficit over the next decade. We’re no longer running toward oblivion, we’re walking toward it.”

In the best-case scenario the deal will only cut 6-7% of federal spending over the next 10 years. That is ignoring the fact that federal spending is slated to increase by over 50% over the same time period. Meanwhile, unemployment is as high as ever. As fights go, the budget battle was reminiscent of the War of 1812, which featured years of nasty fighting and then a cease-fire that basically just restored the status quo ante bellum. 

In general, I like divided government. When one party controls the House, Senate, and the White House, they tend to do things like send us into a protracted war without a clear objective, or an exit strategy, or a way to pay for it. The downside of divided government, however, was on full display over the last few weeks. With Democrats stubbornly refusing to cut or reform entitlements, and Republicans stubbornly refusing to raise revenue by closing loopholes or eliminating tax subsidies, there was little chance of achieving significant long-term deficit reduction. They also ignored the ongoing jobs crisis in their obsession with the deficit, refusing to consider more small business tax cuts or infrastructure spending that could help reverse unemployment. Indeed, the only compromise they could settle on was just kicking the can down the road. 

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