David Brooks: The Fiscal Flop

From David Brooks:

They could have shown the world that the two parties can work together to avert the eventual calamity. They could have produced a balanced program that would have combined spending cuts and targeted tax increases. They could have reduced Medicare spending on the rich to free up more money for young families.

President Obama and Speaker John Boehner both earnestly wanted to achieve these things. But the deal we are heading toward is discouraging. Yes, the deal does raise $600 billion in revenue over 10 years from a tiny sliver of the population (compared with the $8 trillion in new debt likely to be accrued over that time).

But the proposal is not a balance of taxes and spending cuts. It doesn’t involve a single hard decision. It does little to control spending. It abandons all of the entitlement reform ideas that have been thrown around. It locks in low tax rates on families making less than around $450,000; it is simply impossible to avert catastrophe unless tax increases go below that line.

Far from laying the groundwork for future cooperation, it sentences the country to another few years of budget trench warfare. There will be a fight over drastic spending cuts known as sequestration, then over the debt limit and on and on….

Whom should we blame for this? Again, we should not blame Obama and Boehner. In their different ways, they and a number of other people in the Congress are trying to find a politically palatable way to deal with these hard issues. They got what conditions allowed.

Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way.

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  • fb

    for shame. without making a statement on what services/benefits government should provide, it seems to me that we should be able to agree that whatever they are, WE should pay for them. it’s scandalous and immoral that we spend on ourselves and leave the bill to succeeding generations. where is the outcry over /that/ from those who purport to care about social justice?

  • Good for Brooks. Incisive as usual. If we see any strutting or back-patting from anyone from either party in Washington following this non-accomplishment, we should scream bloody murder.

  • Jag

    If we would have left tax rates at Clinton levels and decided not to invade Iraq and Iran for Saudi terrorists, we would not be in this shape. The true failure of the voters lies in electing the leaders who led those efforts, not in deciding that senior citizens deserve health care.

  • Kyle J

    The positive spin is that, before you can make the hard choices, you have to make the easy ones. A modest increase in tax rates for the wealthy, which is both politically popular and unlikely to have any significant economic impact, qualifies there.

    Coming off a campaign in which a major GOP attack was that the Democratic president had cut Medicare, it was very unlikely we were going to get major reforms to that program at this moment. Another example of that dynamic:


    Practically speaking, voters are never going to clamor for hard choices. It has to come from the two parties trusting each other enough momentarily to give each other political cover. Obviously, we’re far from that situation right now.

  • Love David Brooks.

  • Cal

    The one thing you’ll never read is severe cuts to military spending and the reduction of a global US presence. By boot or by bomb, whatever it takes for the glory of Rome.

  • Diane Reynolds

    Brooks is cruel and disingenuous. In a civilized world, we commit to providing for the elderly and find a way to pay for it, such as lifting the cap on soc sec. contributions. He is fault-finding and sanctimonious –and fomenting generational conflict–over a manufactured crisis. Are the generations really pitted against one another? Does the younger generation really “win” if their parents are thrown on their own resources–meaning, in most cases, their children’s resources? The hard choice we need to make is to wean from our addiction to militarism and stop devoting such a huge amount of our budget to pointless wars.

  • June

    Speaking of budgets, the democratic controlled Senate has now gone almost 4 years w/o approving a budget for this country. The budgets that Obama put forth lost 99-0 in the Senate. The republicans are no better. We all need to have some skin in the game. Dont give me this crap “oh those people cant pay their too poor. We all need to pay. We all need to work. If you cant get off your ass and go to work, go to Europe or try Cuba or Venezuela might be good for you. Forget Social Security and Medicare. No one said the world is FAIR. Life is difficult. Scott Peck-The Road Less Traveled.

  • Marshall

    The immediate problem is the lack of a desire to get along together. There’s not that much sign of it down here at the neighborhood, people-I-talk-to-every-day level, but it just gets worse and worse as you go up through and contemporary hierarchy, be it commercial, political, cultural, whatever. Our “Adversarial” system at work. We’ve been warned about it.

    Brooks starts off with a tactical political problem involving a few hundred stewards and blames it on Romney’s 47%. It’s a canard.

  • Gary Lyn

    On a more satirical note (but as with all satire, carrying a sense of some truth) from the Borowitz Report:

    Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year’s Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation.
    “This deal proves that if we all procrastinate long and hard enough, we can semi-solve any self-inflicted problem at the very last minute in a way that satisfies no one,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
    But even as Sen. McConnell basked in self-congratulation, he warned Congress against the complacency that could come with having sort of fixed its own completely avoidable mess.
    “This is a new year, and much work remains to be done,” he said. “It’s up to us to concoct entirely new optional disasters that we will have to undo at some later date in a more or less half-assed way.”
    In a related story, an arsonist received an award for putting out his own fire.
    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2013/01/washington-celebrates-solving-totally-unnecessary-crisis-they-created.html#ixzz2GpJ62tSE

  • Paul Kohler

    David Brooks is wrong. It is not the voters who should be blamed. Obama wanted a big deal but Boehner wasn’t able to deliver due to the tea party members of Congress. A majority of voters voted for Democratic House Representatives. Republican gerrymandering ensured fewer competitive districts and a Republican majority in the House, resulting in an uncompromising Republican majority in the House. Voters aren’t to blame. Republican politicians that implemented gerrymandering are to blame.