The Magazine

Budget Gamesmanship

The Republicans are winning the deficit debate.

Apr 25, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 31 • By TOD LINDBERG
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Except that this great debate is occurring at a time of generally acknowledged serious fiscal imbalance and economic weakness. The president has conceded his concern. He tried to be blasé about it in the first move of this year’s budget game, but it didn’t work out for him. He agreed in the end to accept a budget deal for this year with spending cuts. He says there are other areas that can be cut (even if he doesn’t mean it or doesn’t want to act on it). It will be up to Republicans to press him by putting forward spending reductions outside the context of a grand deal. They will have ample opportunity. 

True, the result will not be entitlement reform on a Ryanesque scale. And whatever Republicans propose, Obama will deem excessive. But the president will find a “no cutting” position exceedingly difficult to defend. The most likely outcome will be an argument over how much gets cut. The terms of reference of such an argument will be a powerful indicator of how badly the liberal Democratic position has deteriorated.

That’s not to say that profligacy didn’t have its day. With a little help from the outgoing Bush administration, the government burned through several trillions in borrowing that might otherwise have helped cushion the Baby Boom retirement bulge. But the current political environment seems to be prohibitive for those who would like to deny the reality of the fiscal problem. Obama tried that, and it was a losing strategy. He will now have to cut more spending—while making the case for a very large tax increase that is either going nowhere or is going to land by default on everybody who enjoyed lower rates thanks to George W. Bush.

The left and right poles of the debate are well-positioned for Republicans. 

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review, is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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