In (Moderate) Defense of Conservative Deficit Hawks

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Ezra Klein considers the difference between deficit hawks and deficit frauds. On the first group, he writes:

There has been a genuine campaign on the part of people who are concerned about the economy to explain that the dangers of debt are longer term, while the pain of joblessness is happening right now.

I agree. It's consistently frustrating to be lumped with the austerity-now crowd just because I endorse a plan to slowly work on the deficit in the next decade. On the second group, he writes:

The deficit frauds are the folks who use deficits for short-term political gain: This year, they've mainly been Republicans who opposed unemployment benefits because they'd add $56 billion to the deficit but demanded tax cuts that would add $4 trillion to the deficit.

There's no question that I'd like to see higher taxes and higher unemployment benefit spending today -- while Republicans would like to see neither. There is also no question that some Republicans are being downright political about the deficit, railing against red ink when it benefits them and trotting out pathetic or non-existent plans to reduce spending when they're put on the spot. [Wonkroom is brilliant at compiling these episodes.]

But there are also some staunch conservatives who support just about any tax cut, resist most emergency spending, and also have crystal clear ideas about how to reduce outlays. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation has made the case to me many times that our long term deficits are a spending problem, not a low revenue problem; that fiscal stimulus cannot work; that long-term low-rate tax policy is the single best driver of growth; and that we have to reform our spending to meet ideal tax policy rather than the other way around. He's put forth a plan to cut $300 billion in the next few years and then reform Social Security and Medicare in the years after that.

His plan isn't my plan. Why should it be? He's a conservative, I'm not. A 100% spending-cut approach to the deficit is quixotic at best, draconian at worst, and basically misguided, if you ask me. But it's not fraudulent.

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

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