We all know what the Congress should be doing about the debt right now, don't we? It should be debating which mix of long-term entitlement and defense cuts and the least economically damaging tax increases would lower the long-term debt, restore global confidence in the long-term solvency of the US, and thereby ignite more business confidence and job growth. Yes, the discretionary spending budget should also be subjected to, er, strict scrutiny, mindful of the sometimes counterproductive effect of too drastic a reduction in demand in a fragile economy.

What do we have instead? A president too calculating to take a stand and an opposition so focused on drastic cuts to discretionary spending and over-reaching on collective bargaining that it is already making Independents and moderate Republicans queasy. My concern is that this dynamic leads to diminishing the chances of real cuts in the places where the real money is. Bruce Bartlett puts the meat on the bones of this argument here by noting that the GOP's Tea Party fixation on 2011 spending cuts both delays their chance to present a more considered 2012 budget proposal and pushes the real issue even further down the road.

If the lesson of the next two years becomes that spending cuts hurt people and hurt the economy, and that ending public funds for PBS or pork is a serious way to save the country from fiscal ruin, then the solid case for long-term fiscal reform is at risk of being bungled.