The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the nation's most famous organ of deficit reform, announced a new $1.2 million grant program to give six "think tank" organizations $200,000 each to develop plans to fix the budget. If you're bored of the deficit debate already ... well, I'm sorry.
The recipients span the ideological spectrum from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, to the moderate Bipartisan Policy Center and Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, to the more notably liberal Center for American Progress and Economic Policy Institute.
I'm sure some folks will respond to this new program cynically. Don't we have enough ideas to raise taxes and cut spending already? Do we really need more research on the budget? Isn't the thing we really need the political will to enshrine that research into law? Stop buying public policy papers; start buying off senators!
Part of me is sympathetic to this view (minus the last clause). Another part remembers that deficit reform is the kind of issue that requires media attention that might have to be, well, bought. Some national crises announce themselves loudly. The Arizona shootings thrust gun control into the media cycle, and terrorist attacks demand discussion of homeland security and counter-terrorism efforts. But sometimes the most difficult issues don't come with dramatic, 72-type font punctuation. Slow-burning, burgeoning crises like our debt burden and climate change are mostly invisible. We don't know for certain that the country will face a fiscal crisis in 2017, or that global climate change will drown southern Florida or fry sub-Saharan African farms. The best we can do is insure against the possibility that they'll strike. For climate change, that means pricing carbon and nudging the world's largest carbon producers toward cleaner technology. For the deficit, that means building a plan to slowly raise taxes and cut spending.