More than three years after seizing control of Congress with a claim of sweeping mandate, Democrats in Congress still seem unable to respond to charges of Congressional overspending without merely pointing their fingers at Republicans and running away from the issue. With annual deficits projected in excess of $1 trillion per year as far as the eye can see, this is an unforgivable abdication of their responsibilities.
The long-repeated Democratic meme of Republican tax cuts that weren’t paid for and wars that were accounted off-budget may have had some legitimacy before all the massive new spending that came with the 2008 financial crisis and the Democrats’ drive to dramatically expand health care and other entitlements, but even to the limited extent that Democrats’ objections to Republican policies remain true, they cannot account for the pure size of the current problem. Even if all the 2001 Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire tomorrow and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow resolved by the abrupt invasion of benevolent aliens from Galaxy 999, the annual deficit would still remain over $1 trillion.
When, oh when, will blaming stop being a replacement for governing? Europe is going broke and we are seeing on our TV screens the kind of massive social disruption and political paralysis that strikes when the problem is left to fester indefinitely. (And we are also seeing the role of the government-sector unions that form Democrats’ base in exacerbating the problem.) Yet Democrats who currently hold control of all three branches of government have not yet put forward a single idea on how to even begin addressing the yawning chasm of fiscal insolvency that threatens to leap across the Atlantic like a huge ash cloud. The only thing they can manage to put together is a press release recycled verbatim from 2005.
If this is all Democrats can offer, then maybe the Tea Party starts to look pretty good by comparison. Then again, hoping to somehow address deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts is probably just as big a fantasy-world as doing nothing. And the Tea Party folks are definitely still living in a no-new-taxes fantasy world.
Maybe the paralysis ash cloud is already here.
UPDATE: The portion of the troublesome attitude that exists on the progressive side is captured nicely by a quotation from Yale Law and Political Science professor Bruce Ackerman, for whom raising taxes is always an available policy choice, but cutting spending is apparently intolerable, in an interview:
This one is maybe less likely, but the fiscal crisis of the American state may well come before the court. What happens when promised benefits are cut back dramatically? Will the court protect the weak, or not? At the moment, one’s answer would be not.
To characterize any attempt to scale back spending as an attack on “the weak” is an inflammatory and unrealistic framing. Unfortunately, it is matched by equally inflammatory and unrealistic rhetoric of “socialism” that flies in from the right whenever revenues are put on the table. Neither purists from the left nor right are seriously engaged in practical policy when it comes to taxes and spending, and that intellectual pathology infects even elite professors at the most elite institutions.
Serious comments and discussion welcome at District TMV.