Deficit Reform Means Breaking Promises

At the Fiscal Summit in Washington DC, noted deficit scold Peter Peterson made something of a Kinsley gaffe: saying the truth in a way that sounds like a mistake. "We must unencumber ourselves of promises," he said.

From a framing perspective, "let's break promises, together" sounds horrible. But that's essentially what dramatic fiscal reform amounts to. Americans have been promised lower tax burdens for the last thirty years. Taxes will have to go up. Constituency groups have been promised certain levels of discretionary spending. Spending will have to go down. Seniors have been promised their entitlements, but entitlement reform means changing the level of taxes or spending through Social Security, which means denying some amount of money to people who were told they'd have it.

So there you have it, the worst, possibly most honest frame imaginable. Fiscal austerity means breaking promises, together.