The Next 6 Months in the Deficit Debate

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This was supposed to be The Year of the Deficit, and last night's face-off between President Obama and Paul Ryan might have kicked off the debate in dramatic fashion.

So much for that.

The GOP budget chair had called for significant tax cuts for the rich, the partial privatization of Social Security and a radical transformation of Medicare into a voucher program. He mentioned none of the above in last night's speech. Meanwhile the president's commission attracted the support of liberal and conservative senators in securing a majority vote in December. Instead of embracing the recommendations, the president gave it the rhetorical equivalent of a dismissive head pat.

So, is it lights out for the 2011 deficit debate? Not so fast. Multiple senators have asked to debate the commission's report in Congress. The Peterson Foundation, a leading budget watchdog organization, recently gave six think tanks across the ideological spectrum $200,000 each to research solutions to the deficit crisis. Evidently, we haven't heard the last of deficit reform in 2011 yet.

Peterson's plan is to flood Washington in budget ideas so that they overflow onto op-ed pages, TV shows and C-SPAN videos. But what we have isn't a failure of ideas but a failure to communicate. We know that America's debt burden will get dire this decade. We know that only a centrist plan pairing tax increases with entitlement reform will secure enough bipartisan support to make it to a president's desk. But camera to their face, few politicians have the guts to get specific.

Expect the next six months to feel like the last six months: Washington's courage deficit remains unreformed.


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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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