It’s Not About the Deficit

Nor has it ever been. It’s about wounding the President, and scoring some culture war victories along the way. Once again, the Republican Party fails to be serious where it really counts.



  1. I always woder if you read all the way through some of the articles you cite:

    “While Democrats have criticized the Republicans for attaching the social policy riders to the short-term spending bill, it is hardly an unprecedented practice. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the same sort of spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, which was signed into law by Mr. Obama with a host of amendments designed to set policy.”

    What the GOP is doing is certainly nothing new and I think you know that. The only real difference is that with a govt shutdown looming it makes the stakes higher. Democrats are hoping to use that as a shield against the very same behavior they engaged in since 2008. I guess the message they are trying to send is that social policy riders in less urgent times are cool, but when things get serious 9or if the other side is driving) then everyone should take the high road.

    Eagerly awaiting your heavily nuanced rebuttal.

  2. Democrats were and are, of course, the majority. For Republicans to try to dictate social policy they couldn’t win otherwise — and risk putting a million people out of work to do it — is a rather different animal. That’s not nuance, it’s just obvious, I thought?

    1. Ames – these provisions were not passed as individual mandates of a public majority. From your own source:

      “…Because this law was on the books for years — passed by Democrats as a rider to unrelated bills.”

      Why would they have done this if they had the power of their majority behind them?

      And you also realize that those spending bills could have just as easily lead to at least a partial government shutdown if the GOP had fought them…right?

  3. It never was about the deficit. See: extending the tax cuts.

    1. Chris – what guarantee is there that a tax hike would begin to erase the deficit? With federal spending increasing at an even higher rate than the Bush years it’s not likely that the Democrat majority is going to suddenly become frugal when billions in new tax revenues start coming in. They will spend more and the deficit will stay the same.

      1. What part of federal spending are you always so hot about? Certainly not discretionary . . .

        1. phillip, i’d prefer a focus on the military and entitlements. We can go after wasteful discretionary spending when those are under control.

          1. And, define “wasteful.” Trust me, there is not enough “fraud and abuse” to make any kind of dent in the deficit or the debt. If you mean “programs I don’t think the federal government should spend money on” please pick another term. I and my colleagues don’t consider our salaries or the costs of electricity to operate our buidings waste.

            1. Phillip – you and I both know there is plenty of duplication and waste in discretionary spending. It gets swept under the rug by federal employees and their liberal supporters as a trivial amount of money – but billions in waste is still billions. It’s not big potatoes which is why I would be fine with ignoring it for now, but ignoring it forever? No.

              1. Sorry Mike, but from the inside I can’t say as I agree, nor am I sweeping anything under the rug. My experience is that, when two programs from different agencies have the same or similar names, they are generally complimentary, not duplicative. Take one away, and the other can’t achieve the overall goal. Don’t make the same mistake OMB makes and believe that similar sounding words automatically means duplication of effort or expenditure. Remember the President’s salmon reference from the State of the Union? He actually got it wrong. FWS and NOAA don’t duplicate each other’s programs for Atlantic salmon – they work closely to compliment each other – and Pacific salmon are completely NOAA managed. Waste may make for a nice sound bite, but it doesn’t really exist. And certainly not at any level that will ever make a difference in Trillion Dollar deficit land.

                1. So it’s your contention that the federal government has no waste – that every program is run at peak efficency? C’mon Phillip – even the best run private companies can’t make that claim. Personally I haven’t had to deal much with the federal government but I DO have a fair amount of experience at the state level and a LOT of experience at the local level. There is TONS of waste. My wife works for one of our local institutions and I guarantee I could cut their administrative budget in half with minimal effort. I can only assume that waste multiples greatly at the federallevel.

                  1. Its an assumption that you would be largely incorrect in. Sure, there’s “waste” in that our processes are not always as streamlined as a businesses’ are, but I don’t believe they should be. When we’re dealing with polluters under the Clean Air Act, for instance, do you want speedy (which many people conflate with efficient) or do you want effective? Effective is often more costly and time consuming. Likewise, federal actions are often on subjects where there is a motive thats antithetical to the profit motive in business. So why should we be that way? and why should we waste time (also a resource in production terms) trying to solve a revenue problem (which the deficit is at its heart) using supply chain changes?

                    1. You’d be amazed how much money can be saved with solid supply chain management ;)

                      But I’m talking more about administrative excess. Staffs that are too large, rules that are too cumbersome and create additional work, etc. Beyond that is the more obvious stuff like the programs that are simply unneccessary (think the movie ‘Dave’)or maybe do more harm than good. I’ve got a post coming up about the CRP program that explores that idea.

                    2. Mike, I have yet to see a federal staff too large. In my now former office, we generally left between 1/2 and 1/3rd fo the regulatory actions/permits/federal decisions on the table in a given year because we didn’t have enough people to do the analysis work that allowed us to meet statutory burdens. In my current office there are 4 of us to manage a $175 Million national grant program. What you call waste I call things you don’t want government to do in the first place.

                    3. Well, yeah – there is a lot of waste i.e. the federal government doing stuff I would rather it not do or rather was handled by private industry. Or even state governments.

      2. what guarantee is there that a tax hike would begin to erase the deficit? Not raising taxes while trying to reduce the deficit is like starting a race a lap behind your competitors. One has to work twice as hard just to catch up.

        1. Not cutting spending before you raise taxes is like giving a beer to an alcoholic and asking them not to take a drink.

          1. Obviously it’s not about the deficits for you either. Instead, it’s about being insulting and trying to score cheap points.

            As a reminder, the same “deficit hawks” ran two wars and an expansion of Medicare on deficit spending.

            1. Chris – was your analogy meant to be insulting? if not, why is mine? Federal spending is not an economic problem, it’s a psychological problem. Given increased revenues there is no one there who is disciplined enough to not spend that money instead of using it to erase our debt. We have to get our spending problem under control before we send more money to Washington. We can’t simply tax our way out of this hole as Some Liberals would have us believe.

              1. Mike,
                No, we can’t tax our way out of the hole, but as I have said MANY times here and elsewhere, right now the amount of the deficit equals the amount of discretionary spending for the government. Even if we could go after entitlements and the DoD as you have suggested, unless you are prepared to eliminate them whole sale, we can’t and won’t have enough revenue to cover the difference (which is the deficit). SO there will HAVE TO BE tax increases, and my vote is for starting to reduce the “tax expenditures” that we all know as loop holes. and let’s make capitol gains taxible at something other then 15%, so that the financial industry has a compensatory interest in getting its house in order.

                1. Phillip – I am fine with raising taxes at some point but it’s my opinion that you must control spending first. That’s the root cause of the problem, not a lack of revenue.

              2. Calling people alcoholics is both insulting and unserious.

                Pointing out that reducing revenues adds to the problem is factual.

                1. Chris – I could argue that comparing the federal budget to a foot race is also un-serious. It seems you’re being more than a little thin skinned.

                  Washington’s spending problem is chronic and habitual. It seems like comparing it to alcholism makes sense. In lieu of that how about we talk about someone with a shopping addiction? You know, the kind where you spend and spend until you owe thousands on credit cards? The liberal approach to that problem would seem to be that the shopper should simply ask their boss for a raise. I don’t see how that fixes the actual problem i.e. an addiction to spending.

                  1. The Democrats actually pay for their spending. The Republicans are the ones who fought two wars and added to Medicare on a tax cut.

                    Now the Republicans want to fund another tax cut (Ryan’s plan) on the backs of poor people.

                    It seems that the Republicans have personal experience in “alcoholism.”

                    1. Democrats have had the WH for three years – where is the balanced budget? Why haven’t the wars been ended in the name of fiscal discipline? Why not roll back the medicare entitlements?

                  2. Mike – again with the bullshit. Obama’s been in office 2 years during a Republican-caused recession. Rome wasn’t built in a day and this problem won’t get fixed tomorrow.

                    1. Troops can be pulled out pretty quickly and the Medicare expansion hasn’t even been put on the table.

      3. oneiroi · ·

        That’s a whole bunch of speculation. If you get the trillions back from letting the tax cuts die, in addition to revenue from a hopefully soon recovering economy, that would take a huge dent off the deficit Republicans say they’re concerned about.

        Either way, I think raising taxes along with cuts, is the compromise that must be made if anyone is serious about the issue. I think Democrats have come to the table in making cuts (yes, not as much as Republicans may want), but Republicans have not budged on the tax issue.

        1. Okay – let’s let the tax cuts die. ALL of the tax cuts. Everyone on board with that?

        2. oneiroi · ·

          Personally, yes. But that doesn’t really make a difference.

          1. Well it does – because you are in a minority of liberals (in my opinion)that are willing to actually contribute taxes towards our economic woes.

          2. Really? Last April 15th my facebook feed lit up with “Proud to pay taxes to support the greatest country in the world” posts. We’re really quite consistent on the whole tax thing. We think you should pay them — you meaning, corporations — but we pay them too.

            1. I’m talking about taking a tax hike along with the rich.

          3. oneiroi · ·

            Well, I think that’s the political argument. Polls favor higher taxes on the rich to address help fix the deficit, which would also bring in the highest revenue comparatively.

            Then if it’s a conversation with Republicans on a compromise and not a complete surrender, then a little bit should hypothetically be easier to pass than the broad expiration.

            And I haven’t heard a Republican politician argue for the all or nothing.

            1. I’m sure polling does show that most people favor taxes on the rich to fix our woes. Just like most people prefer someone else fight fires and wars. People are sheep. We need more lions.

              1. oneiroi · ·

                Just the other day you were talking about how this is all WHAT PEOPLE WANT.

                And I’m saying, the Republican ideas are not really what people want.

                ““CNN poll: 65% of Americans want Congress to keep funding Planned Parenthood,; 71% favor continued EPA funding.””

                But they favor raising taxes. They favor cutting defense/military.

                If we’re sitting around saying, people want to lower the deficit, let’s figure out how to do that as politicians, those are real ways to get it done.

                Just because it’s not a conservative view, doesn’t mean it gets kicked out because you don’t want it to happen. I guess it’s politics, but you can’t use the public poll saying that it licenses you to do everything you want, when it’s not really what they want.

                1. Haven’t a bunch of you talked before about how politicians are supposed to do what is best for the people, not necessarily what they want? What is BEST for this country is raising taxes on everyone.

                    1. It’s pretty easy to get more money out of the people in that top, super-rich group. Close the tax loopholes. Ryan is talking about it. The debt commision is talking about it. The Gang of Six is talking about it. The President might talk about it. You do that and you can grab a whole lot more money from the top dogs and conservatives aren’t really going to complain because it’s fair.

                      The alternative is to do as you suggest, raise the rates for those making millions per year and piss off the Right.

                  1. And I still can’t get the html tags right over here!

                2. You talked about how people want a smaller government. You talk about how people want to fix the deficit. You talk about how “the people” want conservative ideas.

                  Yet, ignore the people, when you disagree with them on specifics.

                  I’m just saying, those are popular ideas, that Republicans throw out because they disagree with them, while saying they’re championing what the people want. Yes, it’s a game every side plays. You have to be able to use popular will at times and go against it at others.

                  It’s just that what you think are bad ideas, are the ones that liberals think are good ideas, that are popular ideas, that liberals are BEST for the country, that the Republicans won’t budge on.

                  1. So because a polled majority prefers extra taxing of the ‘rich’ to fixing the tax code or giving up services, that is the direction we should go in? If you recall, a majority of the country opposed gay marriage too. A majority of the country also favored invading Iraq. Good ideas in hindsight?

                    1. oneiroi · ·

                      I don’t think I’m saying that we should listen to the public every time.

                      I’m just saying that Republicans are being hypocritical in this instance.

                      And I believe I said every side does it, let me look..yep.

                    2. Question: Have you ever believed that we should listen to the public when they favored a specifically-conservative policy position?

                    3. oneiroi · ·

                      Just saying, Republicans have been all swagger about how they’ve won through the will of the people to “fix government”.

                      Walking around like it was a rubber stamp of their ideas.

                      When most of their ideas are not favored.

                    4. oneiroi · ·

                      Your question would be applicable, if I acted as though Obama being elected meant that he had a mandate to make gay marriage legal.

                    5. But you’re saying that sometimes the public should be listened to. I’m just asking if that’s ever when they support a conservative position?

                    6. oneiroi · ·

                      Yes. I haven’t had said otherwise.

                      I’ve said repeatedly that both sides go against public sometimes. That’s me as well. The public isn’t always right or wrong, we don’t live in an objective universe. I’m saying, that this time, the popular will is with Democrats, while Republicans act like they still have it. Which isn’t true. That’s what I’m saying. Which has nothing to do with your questions.

                      What this is about, is messaging.

                      So it’s just as much a condemnation of Democrats. We should be standing up on our policies, as something the people want to help fix the deficit. We should still be trying to harness popular opinion. Saying, look at these Republicans who want to make these cuts to the programs you love, that will hurt our country, while pushing tax policy that will, according to the CBO, create trillions of more problems. We have tax positions that you would like more.

                      Would be better messaging point than always playing defensive against the Republican’s narrative. Which can be called out. Which is what I’m doing.

                      I don’t know why you keep asking the same question, which, to me, gets away from the topic, I’m going to repeat how I’ve answered it previously, so hopefully I won’t have to again:

                      Yes everyone has to go for and against the popular public opinion.
                      Yes sometimes popular opinion is good and bad.
                      Yes playing politics requires changing the messaging to fudge this.

                    7. The point is though that the general public is never going to support tax hikes for themselves even though that is the best thing for the country. You’ve also admitted that sometimes the public is right and sometimes they are wrong which IMO renders their opinion irrelevant to policy making. Politicians should do what they think is best for the country and to hell with polling. You seemed to be implying that my position was incorrect because it lacks public support. I’m saying that support is meaningless.

                    8. And I’m saying, the popular options to cut the deficit, are on the Democrat’s side.

                      While Republicans act like it’s their policies that are popular.

                      That’s all.

                      That has nothing to do with the about whether public opinion is wrong or right.

                    9. OK – the public suports Democratic positions of tax, tax, tax the rich and spend, spend, spend on social programs.


                      That doesn’t make them right. Wht are you so interested in popular suport for Democratic fiscal policies?

                  2. I was more concerned with the divide between how Republicans (and you) were selling their narrative of popular and populist support in order to get their agenda through, when in actuality they don’t have that support.

                    Instead, what’s supported, are things that Republicans refuse to even compromise on.

                    That’s what I was concerned with.

                    The specific Democrat ideas are what I brought up later.

                    But I am hopeful that this is true, “It’s impossible to overstate just how commanding a position Obama holds here with regard to public opinion. People overwhelmingly favor higher taxes on the rich. They even more overwhelmingly oppose cutting Medicare. The Republican plan to impose deep Medicare cuts in order to free up room to cut taxes for the rich is ridiculously, off-the-charts unpopular. If Republicans want to take this position, Obama has to make them pay dearly.”Jonathan Chait, New Republic

                    1. And truthfully, I’ve sat around for so long, hearing Republican talking points that Obama was pushing through unpopular things like the health care reform, “down people’s throat”, because they were unpopular…how what he was doing wasn’t what americans wanted…can’t it annoy me that now Republicans do the same thing they were complaining about once they goat a little bit of power?

                      But as I’ve said before, conservatives are much better at messaging.

                    2. I think public support for tax reform is much more nuanced than that. Higher taxes on the rich will simply not get us there by themselves. Closing loopholes, tackling spending…there’s plenty of support out there for that re: 2010 midterms.

            2. You do know middle class tax hikes are political suicide, ne? We should integrate feasibility into budget suggestions, and middle class tax hikes are simply not feasible.

              “We need more lions” is simply a great catchphrase.

              1. Political suicide – maybe. But that doesn’t make them wrong. Morally they are the right thing to do.

                As for catchphrases – that is one we use with our kids on a regular basis. We ask them all the time, “Are you sheep or are you lions?” I raise lions.

              2. Troy? Really?

                1. Every movie has it’s moments – and I like that one. I also like LotR and particularly like Theoden’s speech.

            3. I for one am a Shark!

        3. Don’t Republicans and Democrats alike agree that the tax breaks for the middle class shouldn’t expire?

          Also, I just have to comment how boring Ryan’s overall debt plan is. The proposition that one can cut the deficit by, essentially, eliminating the single biggest drain on federal funds, is neither surprising nor clever.

          1. I don’t. I’m for letting all the tax breaks expire. Why should the middle class get a pass? We all consume the government services that need funding. Why shouldn’t we all pay for them?

            Only one side seems to have the balls to talk about entitlement cuts. I call that extremely clever.

            1. I’m all for letting all tax expenditures expire, that would be a good idea, but history shows us that the 1% of Americans who control 40% of our national wealth will fight to protect themselves from any increased taxation. you enable that fight be forcing all of us in the middle and lower to pay more when we eliminate breaks/loopholes/expenditures. Like it or not, when a person making $1M pays 35% in taxes, they still have a LOT more money to live off of then a person making $50K and paying 20% in taxes. Yet the current tax structure favors the $1M person, so their EFFECTIVE tax rate is likely to be lower. And, dear friend, its an insult to insinuate that I or any other Liberal don’t want to pay for government services. The only balanced budget so far done at the federal level is Bill Clinton.

              1. Then eliminate the loopholes Phillip. Make the rich pay their share. But don’t stop there. Tax the bejesus out of everyone until everyone understands there is a price to be paid for the government they have asked for.

                I know few liberals who are willing to let go of their ‘Bush tax cuts’.

                1. Then, with respect, you don’t know many liberals. I’d happily forgo the pittance I get in those tax cuts in exchange for a tax policy that raises taxes on the top 1%. What liberals, myself don’t want, but many conservative politicians do, is for my middle class tax cuts to expire, but the upperclass taxcuts to remain in place. They want this because they are still enamoured with Trickle-Down economics, which is historically untennable.

                  1. I don’t know any conservatives that want the middle class cuts to expire but not those on the rich. Generally we are mostly all or nothing on tax policy. If we raise rates on the rich, let’s do it for everyone. Or beter yet, let’s not raise taxes on anyone and simply close the tax loopholes. I simply don’t understand the mindset that says it’s too hard to fix the tax code and easier politically and logistically to simply raise the rate on the top money earners (even though that would ALSO require a change in the tax code).

                  2. The mindset you refer to is the same one that seen effective tax rates for the top income earners in the US decline to 16% while effective middle class tax rates hover between 22% and 25%. We look at history, and we see little evidence that closing all tax loopholes will ever happen, since the mor emoney you have, the more loopholes you tend to take advantage of.

                    1. So the solution is to keep raising their rates because no one is smart enough to figure out a way to close those loopholes permanantely? I don’t accept that premise. The reason there are loopholes to be taken advantage of is because of the complexity of the tax code. If we simplify it, those go away rapidly.

          2. Read the New York Times today?

            As to the rest, if the proposition is that those able to pay taxes should do so, while those not able to should not, then it seems self-evident why the middle class gets tax cuts. Also the engine of innovation etc etc etc

            1. It sounds like Obama is poised to talk vaguely about the economy…again…if he adopts the gang of six proposals great, but I’m not going to hold my breath after he punted on the commission’s recommendations.

              Also, if the middle class can’t afford a tax hike., that seems to be symptomatic of their poor financial habits, not a flaw in our system.

              1. I would argue that the middle class has struggled more before and during this recession than the rich, a lot of which is not their fault, and in my opinion, also has to do with some of the viewpoints you espouse. While our economy depends on a strong middle class.


                I think most of Republican’s policies aim to help an already stable and wealthy upper class, with a relatively blase’ view of everyone else.

                1. A few things about the ‘rich’. It would be helpful if we knew what liberals meant by that. It’s a pretty broad group when compared to the middle class or the poor. Is a doctor rich? How about a CEO? We know Bill Gates is rich but what about the people under him? Are you using the Leonard Beeghley scale or something else?


                  Also, a significant part of the reason that the middle class have suffered n this recession is the lack of fiscal planning they undertook beforehand. No savings, heavy debt loads, etc. A middle class family with no savings and high debt quickly becomes poor when one of the parents loses their job. No GOP policies created that situation.

                  Also, the middle class is shrinking because of globalization which is, again, not something that the GOP created.

                  1. my definition has always focused on the top 5% of income earners in the U.S. Given how much of the national wealth they also control, I think it works.

                    1. We’re cross-commenting here and at your home blog but I think a fair % of that money is sub-S corporations and LLCs.

                  2. oneiroi · ·

                    Yes but bad policies, that the GDP did not create, can further damage it.

                    That’s what cutting programs, while giving tax cuts to the rich does.

                    1. How so? How are tax cuts for the rich compounding the problems already facing the middle class?

                    2. oneiroi · ·

                      Rich get richer, people have less programs to fall back on.

                    3. 2 things:

                      The first is that, as I mentioned to Phillip, some of those in that top tier are CEOs reporting profits as personal income. That means those profits are also going towards hiring and paying workers.

                      The second is that I’m curious as to what specific programs a middle class person would need as the ‘rich get richer’?

            2. Yeah, it’s their fault they’re poor! What a bunch of losers. That’s what I’ve been saying!

              1. If they are poor then they aren’t middle class – do I really have to explain that to you?

              2. That was hardly the point…

                1. I just caught this comment from Ames – but my point is that if someone is middle class then obviously there is a higher level of monetary success. Why can’t they pay a little more in taxes for all of those services they consume?

  4. Of course it isn’t about the deficit. If it was it would have been take care of 2 years ago when Peter Orszag- Director of the Office of Management and Budget ( made a speech and said that the deficit and current spending were unsustainable. Instead we’re here two years later watching political infighting. Its all about pet projects and political goals. Its certainly not about the American people.

  5. So they’re doing something that may or may not be good (I don’t understand the details of what a shutdown entails well enough to have an informed opinion) for bad reasons and saying they’re doing it for good reasons?

    I can’t decide if I think that’s good, bad, or neutral.

  6. dave boudreau · ·

    Yes! My very foundation as an American has is being tested by the out n out racism I see everywhere! I know it’s still prevalent in the deep south but north too!

  7. I just read an intresting proposal from someone that makes pretty good sense. He suggested tying tax rates to unemployment rates. Simply, if the unemployment rate goes down, taxes go up and vice-versa. Pretty simple and I think also much more fair.

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