Esquire today presented a very interesting left-right juxtaposition: two articles by former senators Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) about balancing the federal budget. Here is Hart's article and here is Packwood's.
So who's right? Well, neither. Or both. Hart understandably decries the failure to regulate financial markets. Hart also correctly points out that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined with the Bush tax cuts were not good for the deficit. Given that both the wars and the tax cuts have continued for more than a decade, at this point they are responsible for a huge chunk of the federal debt.
Now, the Bush tax cuts, by themselves, were not a bad idea. Hart's biggest mistake is his refusal to acknowledge that tax cuts can stimulate the economy--a strategy that is part of Keynesian economics and worked undeniably well under both Reagan and JFK. The problem is, if you cut taxes you need to restrain spending, and Bush did exactly the opposite. Here's an idea: pass a law that requires a tax increase for any military operation that continues longer than 10 days. That will keep deficits down, and it might make the trigger-happy contingent of the GOP (which thankfully seems to be in decline) less likely to push for war.
Packwood's article discusses the worrisome increase in total federal spending, with a particular emphasis on entitlements. He is right on there: unless something is done to stop the runaway growth of entitlement spending, deficits will explode in the next few decades. However, by failing to discuss anything besides entitlements, Packwood exemplifies a certain conservative myopia. If the GOP focuses too much on slashing entitlements and leaves everything else alone, they will lose election after election. It would almost take a Vulcan to not see it as unfair for seniors and Medicaid patients to have to make all the sacrifices. While restraining entitlements are essential, fiscal conservatives need to be just as willing to consider things like dismantling the American empire, eliminating foreign aid, cutting federal payroll, closing tax loopholes, and probably--in a decade or two--raising taxes in some form.