"Grim" doesn't seem to be a terrifying enough word to describe the budget outlook that the CBO released Wednesday. Oh, sure, we sort of knew this was coming--tax cuts are expensive if you don't find spending cuts to match. And yet the numbers still hit one like a punch to the gut. From a guy wearing brass knuckles. Wrapped around a roll of quarters. Shiny new quarters that you can't really afford to use for punching people, because you've got a $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year.
What is there to say? This has got to stop? At this point, saying so feels sort of Job-like. Sepcifically, Job 14: "Man born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not." It's absolutely true, of course, but it's kind of a downer. And no matter how often you say it, you know you're still going to die.
It seems clearer and clearer that short of a near-death experience, no one is going to do anything about this problem. Our president spent over 5,000 words Tuesday kind of noting, offhand, that we might have a problem, and then studiously avoiding proposing any serious solutions to the problem. Paul Ryan's response emphasized the problem, but not the ugly solutions: raise taxes, cut entitlements. And Michelle Bachmann . . . well, what do you get when you cross a motivational speaker with an eighth grade social studies teacher? I'll tell you what you don't get: any serious proposals to fix our budget woes.
The market is fully prepared to serve as judge, jury and executioner if we don't straighten up soon. We don't have to fix the budget right now--but we do have to develop a credible plan that both sides can actually commit to. Unfortunately, right now the only serious plan anyone seems to have is to put off making decisions, and hope that you'll be out of office when the day of judgment finally arrives.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down