Send in the Clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here (emphasis is Steve’s):
Almost immediately after President Obama’s budget proposal was released, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) issued a statement condemning it. As the right-wing senator put it, the White House’s budget “would push us over the edge into generational debt.” He added that policymakers need to “save our nation from the coming fiscal crisis.”Around the same time, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) issued a similar response to the White House budget plan, insisting it would “not get the debt or deficit under control.” He added that policymakers must embrace “fiscal discipline” for “the sake of our children.”
About two hours later, DeMint and Pence unveiled the “Tax Relief Certainty Act.” It would, according to their joint press release:
Make permanent the 2001 and 2003 individual income tax relief for all hard-working Americans — preserving the 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% income tax brackets, rather than allowing President Obama and Democrats to increase the top tax bracket to 39.6% and increase taxes on the lowest earning Americans in the bottom 10% bracket;
Permanently repeal the immoral and unfair death tax, which increases from 35% to 55% on Jan. 1, 2013. Permanent repeal of the death tax would increase GDP by $118.8 billion and lead to $23.3 billion per year in new federal revenue;
Prevent the tax increase on capital gains and dividends income for all Americans, rather than allowing the Democrats to increase the rates to 20% from the current 15%; and
Permanently patch the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).
Honestly, it’s like having a policy debate in a Lewis Carroll novel.
These guys, like their right-wing brethren, have spent the entire day saying that deficit reduction, debt reduction, and fiscal responsibility are the single most important problems facing the country. That’s wrong, but that’s their argument.
On the exact same day, the exact same conservatives presented a plan to pass massive tax cuts, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, without a plan to pay for any of it.
In other words, in the morning, DeMint and Pence want to make the deficit better, and in the afternoon, DeMint and Pence want to make the deficit worse.
Jonathan Bernstein has a simple litmus test for serious political discussion about the federal budget deficit: Is the cost of health care placed front and center?
The long term budget deficit is about one thing: medical costs. It’s not about “entitlements.” Social Security isn’t a long run problem of any serious consequence, nor are various small programs that count as entitlements in the budget process. Long-term projections of the federal budget are very clear. It’s all about health care.
Medical costs. Medical costs are going up much faster than inflation. Therefore, Medicare and Medicaid, and any other government programs affected by medical costs, will, long term, get far more expensive than any realistic level of taxation can handle.
Now, I’d go a bit further, as others have done. I agree with those who have argued that health care isn’t really, properly speaking, a federal budget problem. It’s a serious problem for the American economy. Thinking of it as a budget deficit problem misses the point; shut down Medicare completely and you solve the budget deficit part of it, but you still have an important dysfunctional situation with regard to health care.
Either way, I agree with Jonathan Chait: the way to measure a politician on federal budget deficits is really just to measure whether he or she has made medical costs a priority.