When Do Presidents Care About the Deficit?

George Hager argues:

There’s a short list of big, successful deficit-reduction efforts, and they all had at least two of these three elements in common: 1) The deficit situation had become dire or embarrassing, or both. 2) The president committed to the effort and/or signaled he’d give up a key pledge to get a deal. 3) The opposing party was willing to negotiate away a piece of its bedrock position to get a deal.

Bernstein takes issue with the second point:

What the three episodes [Hager] cites (1982, 1990, 1993) have in common was that in each case, the president's economic team told him that the problem was likely to have real, immediate effects on the economy, effects that would show up before the next election.  In each case, that seems to have been both necessary and sufficient.  Hager does include presidential involvement as one of his three conditions, but I'm making a slightly different claim: presidents will care about deficit reduction when they have an electoral incentive to care about it, and once they are on board, Congress gives it them to them.