If the Deficit Commission Fails, Don't Blame the GOP


After the GOP takes over one or both chambers of Congress, what happens to deficit reduction? Does the road toward more balanced budgets get easier or harder?

Remember, the bipartisan commission established by the president to restore sanity to the budget will release its recommendations in December, a month after the midterm elections, which are expected to be a tidal wave of Red. The commission's recommendations will probably involve a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts. But in a funny bit of timing, the report will drop around the same time Congress will have voted on the Bush tax cuts.

A Republican House will push hard to extend the Bush tax cuts in full, but there isn't much evidence that they'll push for efforts to close that gap with spending cuts. This is partly because Republicans have been coy about spending cut details, and partly because Democrats have been silent on spending cuts. As Ezra Klein writes, "The vehicle for worsening the deficit already exists and has Republican support. The vehicle for reducing the deficit doesn't." Matt Yglesias piles on: "Conservatives don't care about the deficit."

We don't know if they're right about the future, because it's the future. But today, deficit reduction is not a fait accompli, even with unified government under Democratic leadership. The Democrats are in disarray on the Bush tax cuts, with Blue Dog Dems and moderate Senators peeling away from the White House plan to raise taxes on the wealthy. Now look at spending. Nancy Pelosi stacked the deficit commission to protect against Social Security cuts, HuffPo reported. The GOP has been famously short on spending cut details, but so have Democrats. The administration has thought out loud about freezing non-security discretionary spending, but its most significant contribution to deficit reduction was to ask other people to form a commission and tackle the issue outside the political process.

The White House knew Democrats (like Pelosi) would rope off entitlement reform, while Republicans (like Boehner) would rope off tax increases. The independent commission reflects the Washington attitude that deficit reduction can't be handled by elected representatives, no matter who's in charge, and the only way to move forward on painful budget trimmings was to tie everybody together and make them jump, all at once.

The deficit commission was always a Hail Mary, and it's possible -- even probable -- that its recommendations will fail to win support. But this is one you can't peg on Republicans.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Technicolor Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets


Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.


What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.



More in Business

Just In