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Do conservatives care about the deficit? Do Democrats?

deficitagainsttaxes.jpg

Matt Yglesias asks the question and assembles some evidence. The two modern conservative presidents, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, "both presided over massive increases in both present and projected deficits." The most important deficit reduction packages of the modern era, the 1990 and 1993 efforts, "were both uniformly opposed by the conservative movement." The deficit commission is being run by the executive branch because Republicans killed its congressional incarnation under the theory that it might, as part of a balanced deficit-reduction package, recommend tax increases. The conservative movement backed its leaders on all of these measures.

I'd add one more point: In the 2000s, Republicans remade the budget reconciliation process so it could be used to increase the deficit. When Democrats took power, they passed a rule saying that reconciliation needed to reduce the deficit. That is to say, they constrained themselves for the sake of deficit reduction, where Republicans unharnessed themselves from rules meant to limit the debt. That's how the tax cuts were passed under budget reconciliation, while health-care reform had to yoke itself to unpopular taxes and Medicare cuts in order to use the same process. How political movements act during moments of maximum power and political accountability matters.

What we can say from this, at the least, is that there's no evidence conservatives care about deficits when they're in the White House. There's some evidence from the Gingrich era that when Republicans control Congress against a Democratic president, they get serious about deficits. But deficit reduction holds an honored place in the opposition party's playbook, as it constrains the majority party's ability to do anything proactive. So I'm only giving partial credit for that. When they have the power and will have to shoulder the blame, they've increased deficits.

There's also a lot of evidence that conservatives care much more about lowering tax cuts than they do about the deficit. Mitch McConnell's supply-side nonsense aside, those two goals are in direct contradiction, at least if you're not willing to offset your tax cuts with spending cuts or tax increases. And the Republican Party, as Jon Kyl said this week and Reagan and Bush both proved, is not.

By contrast, there's an increasing amount of evidence that Democrats -- and yes, I mean to move from describing ideology to describing party -- do care about the deficit. Clinton passed unpopular and difficult tax increases and spending cuts into law. In 1993, he did it with no Republican votes. Democrats lived under PAYGO rules in the '90s, and after Republicans lifted them in 2002, reestablished the rules when they retook Congress. Democrats strained to make health-care reform deficit neutral, while Republicans made no effort to craft the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit as deficit neutral. Democrats have used the budget reconciliation process only for bills that reduce the deficit, while Republicans recast it to apply to bills that increased the deficit. In fact, aside from stimulus spending, which increases the deficit by its very nature, I don't know of a major domestic initiative from either Obama or Clinton that hasn't been either deficit neutral or deficit reducing. Maybe my readers will enlighten me.

There's also some evidence that moderate Republicans care about the deficit: George H.W. Bush passed a difficult budget that increased taxes and cut spending, and moderate Republicans have limited the size of both Democratic and Republican initiatives. I wouldn't overstate the consistency of this camp -- many of them supported the deficit-busting Medicare Drug Benefit but opposed the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act -- but there's evidence that they do think about it.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 15, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

Ezra, you're letting your librul bias show through by relying on evidence and facts in making your judgment.

If you could show the impartiality to simply take Republicans at their word, you would realize that they're the party serious about deficit reduction and the Pretender King Barry Soetero Fartbama is the one out to ruin America with the $4 trillion dollar debt he's run up in just 18 months.

Posted by: lol-lol | July 15, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Let's try to head off some conservative nonsene before it hits:

You may think the ACA will not in the long run reduce the deficit. Your belief, however, is set against pretty much all of the estimates done by impartial groups or agencies. You may end up being right, but laws should not be passed on the hunches of individuals, they should be passed on the best-guesses of groups whose job it is to make the best guesses possible. Are such guesses infallible? Of course not, but that's all we've got.

The only support for the idea that the Bush tax cuts would reduce the deficit were, again, vague hunches that they would either pay for themselves or actually increase revenue. No credible economists or experts believe this to be factual, and there are no CBO reports which support such a belief.

The point stands that Democrats fequently try and occassionally succeed in reducing the deficit. Republicans talk about reducing the deficit, but frequently act in ways which drastically increase it.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

In retrospect the first George Bush was a much better president than he's usually given credit for. By taking the conservative hit for tax hikes he let Clinton take the liberal hit on spending cuts. If there were more people on both sides willing to make an exchange like that, it wouldn't be THAT hard to work out a compromise.

The problem is that the conservative movement simply rejects the idea that you need taxes to get revenue. The Laffer Curve idea has mutated from "sometimes when taxes are too high, reducing them encourages full payment" to "Low taxes magically create revenue." This is convenient -- if you have a magic revenue fairy, there's no need to ever do anything unpopular.

But the result is that you simply can't negotiate with conservatives in good faith. As we've seen with Chuck Grassley on healthcare and Lindsey Graham on climate/immigration, they will negotiate only up to the point that they undermine your policy, then leave you to take the hit. So there's no way for Obama to take a Bush I-style hit. If he cuts spending, the only response will be "now cut more!"

Posted by: NS12345 | July 15, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

It's certainly apparent that both sides don't play by the same rules.

50 plus vice president Cheney can pass legislation for the GOP, but Democrats need 60 to even begin debate on anything.

Unfortunately, not many voters know about this kind of stuff because Democrats really do suck at messaging while GOP can spin the media like a turntable.

Posted by: dplionis | July 15, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Have you been able to find any libertarians that have inconsistent positions on the deficit? You love to spin things, Klein, but the ACA increases spending. While there are taxes in there to cover it, which I would be glad to pay if the bill actually reduced the cost of health care, which it probably won't, it is a massive spending increase.

I'd rather have broad based tax increases first, so that we can pay for all of the ridiculous things we are already paying for before we sign up for any new spending.

To call the ACA deficit neutral is basically a lie. In the real world, the tax hikes are there to pay for all of the other stuff we haven't even paid for yet. To add more spending on top of that means that we don't even get to see any deficit benefit from the tax hikes.

Raising taxes without reducing the deficit is ridiculous. Hopefully the bill gets way scaled back, or made smarter by using HSAs, so that costs will actually go down and I can spend my money to help get this country back on a sound financial footing, instead of paying for overpriced medicine and overprice doctors in a land of hypochondriacs.

Posted by: staticvars | July 15, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

When President Obama's deficits are four times the size of President Bush's deficits (including the last two years when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress), Mr. Klein has created yet another of his false equivalences.

Posted by: ElmerStoup | July 15, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I think the order of preference for most conservative politicians is clear:

Political Power > Low Taxes > Defense Spending > Balanced Budget > Social Spending.

It's not that conservatives don't care about the deficit, it's just not their first priority.

Posted by: justin84 | July 15, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

ACA will only reduce the deficit if you exclude medicare doc fix but include medicare efficiency savings that logically should have been used to pay for the doc fix.

In addition I believe there were unfunded sections of the ACA that would cause it to increase the long term deficit.

Posted by: halbittinger | July 15, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

staticvars, saying the taxes in the ACA are only there to pay for things we already weren't paying for it pretty unfair. That means Republicans can pass un-paid-for tax cuts and then when the Dems take control they're supposed to pass unpopular revenue generating measures to pay for the tax cuts before they even get to start on anything they want to do. One party shouldn't get to wreck the budget every time they're in charge because the other party is obligated to completely clean up their mess before addressing any of their concerns.

As for the ACA, yes, you're right that it's possible that the deficit reduction measures are overstated. Then again, they could be understated. The point is that we don't really know, but the best guesses that we have available to us say that it will reduce the deficit.

Elmerstoup, 1) President Obama has a once-in-a-generation financial collapse impacting his budgets, and 2) President Bush didn't factor in the cost of his wars into his budgets and didn't include the long term impact of his tax cuts in his budgets.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

One other thing, the point isn't that Dems have balanced budgets and Republicans don't. The point is that Republicans talk a lot about the deficit when they're opposing Democratic initiatives. When there's something they want to do, just about all of them in most circumstances stop talking about the deficit.

I agree with Justin84, it's not that they don't care about the deficit at all, they just care about a lot of other things more and mislead the voters as to how much they're really concerned about the deficit. Most of them are also not honest brokers when it comes to finding solutions to the long term debt.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Well put, justin84.

Posted by: simpleton1 | July 15, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

You too, MosBen.

Posted by: simpleton1 | July 15, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Conservatives' contention with this post will be that they DO care about the deficit and they just have a different way of going about it. They will argue that the more you lower taxes the MORE tax revenue you will collect because the "pie" of the economy will be bigger. We just haven't lowered taxes enough to prove this point right, apparently. So at 20% taxes you will collect more revenue than at 30%. And best of all, lower taxes to 0% and the tax revenue will go through the roof! No more worry about deficits, baby!

Posted by: vvf2 | July 15, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

MosBen,

what of the fact that the PPACA uses LTC premiums ($60 billion) to fund another entitlement that is not affordable but doesn't direct funds to that. That to me is similar to the Medicare Part D that Ezra always CORRECTLY rails against as unfunded. In 10 years will we be talking of that? Probably so. It'll be sad to be the one saying "I told you so" because of the mess we'll be in.

Again, should PPACA have been done, YES. Should it have had MORE cost controls, YES. Should we have been MORE honest about the true costs of it, YES.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Probably worth bringing up this not-famous-enough quote from perhaps the most prominent living conservative Former Vice President Dick Cheney:

From Reuters, Jan. 11, 2004:

(Treasury Secretary Paul) O'Neill said he tried to warn Vice President Dick Cheney that growing budget deficits-expected to top $500 billion this fiscal year alone-posed a threat to the economy. Cheney cut him off. "You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due." A month later, Cheney told the Treasury secretary he was fired.

Posted by: vvf2 | July 15, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse


I don't want to hear failed republican policies that have led us into this economic mess we have today. With the top 1% earning almost 25% of income, the middle class disappearing, its time for the big boys to start paying their share! Social security can be saved just by lifting the cap on wages , the more you make, the more you pay. Republicans do not want to continue unemployment benefits, but we are paying farmers in Afganistan not to grow poppies? Real wages have declined under the republican policies, the elite have the money and politcal power, Rubio's is bought and paid for by the system!

Posted by: roosboys | July 15, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

MosBen,
"As for the ACA, yes, you're right that it's possible that the deficit reduction measures are overstated. Then again, they could be understated. The point is that we don't really know, but the best guesses that we have available to us say that it will reduce the deficit."

But since the program isn't on a fixed budget, and cost growth will be determined by a complex mix of various economic and political factors which are really hard to model in advance, the best guesses are basically worthless.

I'll give you that some measures are in the bill sound like they'll be helpful on the cost control side of the ledger (hopefully offsetting the increased cost insulation for comprehensive insurance to some degree), but painful cost controls are also the most tempting things to cut to win political points. And even if cost controls keep the growth rate per captia down as planned, the stronger subsidies in the exchange might lead to significantly more people in the exchange than expected and far more dollars out the door than expected. But as you say, who really knows.

That being said, we do have a solid track record of cost overruns in entitlement programs.

For example, in 1967 it was estimated that the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990 including inflation - the actual total was $98 billion.

Some of that was excess inflation - inflation averaged 5.1% from 1967 to 1990, and they probably used something closer to 2% to account for inflation back in 1967. Had they used 5.1% inflation rather than 2% (or close to it), they still would have expected Medicare spending to be only $27 billion or so by 1990, with costs still overshooting by a factor of three.

Even as I lean libertarian, I'd be happy to accept a system of public hospitals which would be available to the poor, unfortunate and improvident, provided funding was capped (probably constitutionally) at small percent of GDP (3%, 4%, whatever), in conjunction with killing the healthcare entitlement programs, along with health insurance subsidies, and a significant slice of regulation. Only in that way can you be sure of what you're actually going to be spending, and at least the better part of the population would be managing their health care on relatively free market terms.

Posted by: justin84 | July 15, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse


With the two Bush wars taking our treasure and lives, time to bail out! I don't want to hear failed republican policies that have led us into this economic mess we have today. With the top 1% earning almost 25% of income, the middle class disappearing, its time for the big boys to start paying their share! Social security can be saved just by lifting the cap on wages , the more you make, the more you pay. Republicans do not want to continue unemployment benefits, but we are paying farmers in Afganistan not to grow poppies? Real wages have declined under the republican policies, the elite have the money and politcal power, Rubio's is bought and paid for by the system!

Posted by: roosboys | July 15, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

staticvars re: "spending"
if i tax you a dollar so you won't have to spend 100 dollars of your own cash, is that worth it?

the fact that it's "spending" doesn't mean it's automatically evil when we spend exponentially more on health care than the world. http://blogs.ngm.com/blog_central/2009/12/the-cost-of-care.html

Posted by: Chris_ | July 15, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

vvf2, you're right that that's a conservative argument, but it's also simply not backed up by any evidence. As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is a point at which taxes are so high that lowering them will spur economic growth, but it's simply not true of any tax rate that a lower tax rate would produce more revenue.

visionbrkr, honestly, I find the wording of that first sentence a bit confusing. I'll assume for now that your complaint is that there are aspects of the ACA that you believe are underfunded. By the same token, the CBO didn't take into account all of the saving measures built into the bill when they calculated the impact on the deficit. We may end up saving or generating more money than the CBO estimated.

We just don't really know at this point, but I'm completely on board with revisiting healthcare ever few years (5?) to ensure that we're reducing the amount we're spending and that we're getting better quality care. If the CBO's projection turns out to be too rosey, then we should be willing to cut programs that aren't working or tweak funding sources to increase revenue.

This contrasts to, say, Medicare Part D or the Bush tax cuts. There was no evidence or even possibility at the time that either of these would positively affect the deficit.

Again, my point here, and I think Ezra's isn't to say that the Democrats are perfect angels with the deficit. It's that Republicans love to talk about Democrats as being spending-crazy while they're the party of fiscal responsibility. In practice, however, the Democrats frequently impose rules on themselves and their bills that attempt to restrict or limit the impact they can have on the deficit. There are exceptions, sure, but there's plenty of evidence that they try to work on the deficit while they're in power. Republicans, on the other hand, talk about deficit reduction as the most important problem we have when they're in the minority, but when they take power those arguments disappear and their proposals often don't attempt to control the deficit.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

MosBen,

sorry for that. What i meant is that the CLASS act portion of the HCR collects $70+ billion in premiums (that goes to pay for reform) but then does not actually pay those funds out in the form of long term care payouts to patients in future years.

that's the level of intellectual dishonesty that's involved here. Now are Republicans dishonest when it comes to them saying they're fiscally conservative, ABSOLUTELY. Are they MORE dishonest that Democrats. Lately yes. Does that make Democrats any less dishonest or less responsible for their dishonesty, NO.

I'm fine with revisiting it in another 5 years becuase we'll need to although we may need to wait longer so that the subsides and impact can have some type of working time frame to see how they're working. I'm thinking more like 10.

As I've said many times before on here if you're going to hand insurers, Pharma, doctors, hospitals 33 Million more patients and this is your basic last opportunity to hand them something (before taking away) you probably should have done more to control costs than some pet projects that may work out IF they're not muted by politicians from both sides of the aisle.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

MosBen: I'm the first to acknowledge President Bush should have done a better job of reining in spending during the first six years of his administration when Republicans controlled Congress.

However excuses about "once-in-a-generation financial collapse impacting his budgets" are lame. All the crazy Democrat spending since the 2006 elections, with so few results except higher unemployment and misery, was irresponsibility on steroids.

And we still have to deal with budget gimmickries in ObamaCare, e.g., not paying for the doc fix and claiming to have found arbitrary Medicare "savings."

Posted by: ElmerStoup | July 15, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Republicans are evil, Democrats are saintly. Got it.

Posted by: ostap666 | July 15, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

what's interesting too in vvf2's perspective is that while I'll grant him that Cheney, WAS, IS and forever shall be an idiot that annual deficit has now been TRIPLED in the matter of just 5 years. But hey nothing to see here.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

justin84, you're not wrong on a lot of that. And I think our inability to predict the future just means we should have a system that lets legislators act like grownups and revisit our programs to make sure that we agree they're still worth it and that if we're going to keep them that they're paid for. But again, my point isn't that the Dems are such great masters of prediction that they can balance the budget forty years down the road.

My point is that Dems have a track record of doing *something* to address the deficit. They institute Pay-Go rules, they are willing to talk about taxes to pay for current or proposed programs. Even if the ACA funding mechanisms fall short of covering its full cost, it *does* include funding mechanisms which can be tweaked if the funding is falling short.

And ostap666, the point also isn't that Republicans are evil people. It's that on this issue, deficits, they're not serious. Republicans have a pretty long track record now of cutting taxes, starting wars, and starting up new programs without paying for them with spending cuts. If you want to be the party of reducing the deficit, you major actions should actually reduce the deficit. When Democrats start campaigning on deficit reduction I'll hold them to a higher standard, even if right now I do think they do a better job at it than Republicans.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

The Republican reaction to Paul Ryan's budget is pretty telling too. Ryan showed, basically, that if you just want to cut spending then you've got to cut a ton of spending, and programs, to balance the budget, and he didn't even get all the way there. Yet no Republicans want to be the guys that gutted Medicare, so they just suggest tax cuts without any of the tough choice spending reductions that would have to be made if you're really serious about reducing or eliminating the deficit.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

What exactly are the "tax rates" in the graph? Does it only include income taxes? Capital gains taxes? medicare/social security taxes? corporate taxes?

It looks like tax rates went up around 2003? I don't remember this, what tax rates were raised in 2003?

These might be stupid questions, maybe I'm missing something obvious. An explanation would be appreciated...

Posted by: spacemonkeymafia | July 15, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Ok, one more thing and then I'll let someone else get a chance to talk.

I'm also not arguing that Democrats aren't being craven about the deficit to an extent too. Everyone knows that the long term debt is a problem, and with the sizable majority that the Dems have they could pass some really serious long term spending cuts that would reduce the deficit. But nobody wants to be the party that cuts all that spending because it's never going to be popular. If 30 Republicans said they would vote for a bill with *some* new revenue sources paired with spending cuts I'm completely sure that some kind of bill could get passed. As Ezra has pointed out, though, the minority party is always going to have an incentive to let the majority take the tough votes and then run against those votes in the next election.

Reducing the long term debt is going to take majorities in both parties voting for a hugely complex bill, and right now that seems next to impossible.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

@MosBen: "Even if the ACA funding mechanisms fall short of covering its full cost, it *does* include funding mechanisms which can be tweaked if the funding is falling short."

This is not addressing the point visionbrkr raised, a point I've hammered in the past, that the funding in ACA comes in part from creating a brand new unfunded entitlement, the CLASS Act. Long term care insurance is by design cash flow positive in the early years and cash flow negative in later years. The Democrats take advantage of that and the fact that the CBO uses cash accounting (they count cash in the door and cash out the door, even if the cash in is needed for some future liability) to create the illusion of the CLASS Act reducing the deficit.

Think of this way: if we had a perfectly funded and functional health care system and so didn't even need ACA, would introducing the CLASS Act all on it's own really be reducing our deficit by $70B? Of course it wouldn't, because every penny of that money is needed for future benefits.

Posted by: ab_13 | July 15, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

@vb: Maybe we could have had a better more cost controlling HCR bill IF THE REPUBLICANS WEREN'T FORCING A 60 VOTE MAJORITY TO PASS THE BILL! Needing 60 votes for every step of the process made the dems craft deals that were politically necessary but not necessarily good policy. IF THE REPUBLICANS ACTUALLY BARGAINED IN GOOD FAITH TO ADD MORE COST CONTROLS, THERE COULD HAVE BEEN A BIPARTISAN BILL, BUT THEY ONLY TRIED TO DERAIL THE BILL NOT IMPROVE IT. Sorry for shouting, but you need to put the blame for a more costly bill where it belongs, ON THE PARTY OF NO.

@ElmerStoup: I'm the first to acknowledge President Bush should have done a better job of reining in spending during the first six years of his administration when Republicans controlled Congress.

Aren't you missing something here? Its not that Bush didn't rein in spending, spending growth on nonmilitary discretionary spending didn't suddenly skyrocket, BUSH EXPLODED THE DEFICIT WITH 2 ROUNDS OF TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY. In the reality based community trillions in tax cuts with no way to pay for them (Orrin Hatch "we didn't pay for a lot of things back then.") usually creates huge deficits. And lets not forget that Bush kept the Afghan and Iraq debacles off budget, while Obama brought them on budget which makes his deficit numbers much worse.

"However excuses about "once-in-a-generation financial collapse impacting his budgets" are lame. All the crazy Democrat spending since the 2006 elections, with so few results except higher unemployment and misery, was irresponsibility on steroids."

Wait a second, didn't Bush have the veto pen along with the party of no, doubling the number of cloture filings once they lost control of the senate? Non-defense discretionary Govt spending didn't really grow much in 2006-8, but THE TAX CUTS CONTINUED TO DRAIN THE TREASURY. If you have evidence that non defense discretionary spending rose significantly from 2006-2008, as opposed to talking points imported from rightwingnutistan about how reid and pelosi ruined the economy (as opposed to say the lack of regulation of the mortgage an financial markets for the entire Bush administration), I am ready to examine it. But lets get real. The tax cuts from 2006-2008 added almost as much to the deficit as all non-defense discretionary spending.

non-defense discretionary spending 493 billion. perotcharts.com/2008/05/non-defense-discretionary-spending-in-2007/

2007 bush tax cuts not including interest 400 billion. www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=1018


Posted by: srw3 | July 15, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

ab13 is right. Even the Medicare Actuary called it (the CLASS Act) "a Ponzi scheme that Madoff would be proud of".

Again i'm not pro-Republican on deficit issues because their record is worse but to say Democrats record is good is like saying that Healthcare spending is good now as compared to 30 years from now. Its not, its horrible at both time frames.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

srw3,

really, no need to shout ;-)

Yes I agree that Republicans didn't bargain in good faith but in their eyes (not mine) they saw the negative consequences of the bill outweighing the positive ones.

I would expect they saw the extra taxes, the NEW entitlement program outweighing the benefits of coverage and cost controls that come with an individual mandate. That is IF they understood the benefit of having a mandate in the first place.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I've been kind of scattered today among several of Ezra's posts, so I'm sorry that this stuff wasn't made clear in my posts here:

My point isn't to show that every Dem accomplishment *actually* reduces the deficit or that *every* Republican proposal increases the deficit. My point is that Republicans have tried very hard to be thought of as the party of fiscal responsibility and reducing deficits. They've campaigned, and will campaign this year, on the deficit and have and will blame Democrats for the looming crisis they argue the deficit represents. Democrats have talked some about the deficit, but almost always in response to Republicans making it an issue.

In practice, however, Democrats have, as viosionbrkr says, been better on the whole than Republicans. They're miles away from perfect, to be sure, and I'm fully prepared to agree that the ACA may not end up being deficit neutral, let alone deficit reducing. I don't know and I'm not an expert. From what I've read there seems to be a chance that the reduction in the deficit could be greater than anticipated by the CBO, but there's every chance it could be worse or not existent.

Republicans, despite trying to paint themselves as crusaders for deficit reduction, don't do almost anything in practice to achieve that goal. If anything, they make the problem worse. for this reason we should not take them serious when they talk about wanting to reduce the deficit. We should force them to actually issue proposals that demonstrate how they would propose to eliminate the deficit before giving any credence to the idea that they even care about this issue, because nothing in their recent history shows that they do care about deficits unless it's a tool to beat their political opponenets with.

When Democrats start crowing about the deficit as a major party platform, I'll be skeptical of their committment to the issue as well, though at least they have done things like instituting Pay-Go rules and, at least on paper, producing bills like the ACA which are potentially deficit reducing. Some budget trickery, sure, but if it turns out to be increasing the deficit we can adjust the funding mechanisms, as opposed to Medicare Part D, which would need wholly new funding mechanisms put in place.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

"And I think our inability to predict the future just means we should have a system that lets legislators act like grownups and revisit our programs to make sure that we agree they're still worth it and that if we're going to keep them that they're paid for."

Life would be a lot better if we had grownups in charge. I agree that this Congress would have been a lot better had Republicans bargained rather than trying to deny victories to Obama, although on healthcare I doubt my preferred solution of public hospitals would have flown with Republicans (even if federal health care spending fell).

"My point is that Dems have a track record of doing *something* to address the deficit. They institute Pay-Go rules, they are willing to talk about taxes to pay for current or proposed programs. Even if the ACA funding mechanisms fall short of covering its full cost, it *does* include funding mechanisms which can be tweaked if the funding is falling short."

I'll give you that on average Democrats have been better for the past few decades, although as vision and ab13 point out sometimes the Democrats act like Republicans but are trickier in implementation.

Posted by: justin84 | July 15, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

justin84, I agree, but I think the context of this whole debate isn't so much "who is better", it's "Should we believe Republicans when they talk about how much they care about deficits?" because they're doing that a lot lately. They're justifying their opposition to just about everything these days by referencing deficits. When we look at their track record, however, we should come to the conclusion that they don't care about the impact of any particular program or bill on the deficit so much as they care about how much carping about deficits can hurt the other side.

When Democrats are in the minority complaining about the deficit, if such a thing does indeed happen, we can revisit whether we believe them. And, of course, as we've said they use a bit of trickery but overall are more believable on the issue.

Posted by: MosBen | July 15, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

It is as if a car is careening over a cliff, and the people fighting over the wheel are blaming the steering system.

Posted by: Capn0ok | July 15, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Ah here's the rub, doctors are already abandoning their Medicare patients due to cuts to balance the budget. In the end, neither the Dems nor the Reps cared about about their seniors, let's see what happens when they start dying due to lack of medical care.

Posted by: JudiBug | July 16, 2010 5:55 AM | Report abuse

"Ah here's the rub, doctors are already abandoning their Medicare patients due to cuts to balance the budget."

JudiBug, where do you hear things like this? There have been no cuts to Medicare to balance the budget.

There is an issue for physician reimbursement (commonly referred to as the "doc fix") that needs to be addressed in a permanent way rather than the temporary patches that Congress has been applied so far. But there have been no cuts to Medicare to balance the budget.

Posted by: Patrick_M | July 16, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Ezra has nailed it pretty good. The republican game has been to take their own faults and crony led government and project them onto the democrats who are actually trying to limit or undo the damage from republican polices. The ironic thing is that projecting is all they know how to do, they have no ideas, nothing to contribute, but to cater to the rich, corporations and the ignorant and un-educated.
The strategy is to divide the electorate 50/50 and take your chances. If you lie often enough, saying the same old lines over and over then some perhaps many will believe in the rhetoric because they or either rich or stupid. Why are the TEA Party crowd against education, because if people are stupid the will believe anything because they want to...its all they have. The wealthy will always have the means to educate their kids in the best schools. Thus the divide between rich and poor grows with the middle shrinking to the lower rungs. Education breeds liberals.
So, how has the republicans been able to project the democrats as deficit(spending) and taxation monsters? Because they can't read or they are too lazy to research the facts. They get all they need from Fox, Glenn Beck and Rush. Help us!

Posted by: huffmanv | July 16, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

ElmerStoup, while I am no fan of Obama (or the entirety of Congress -- either party), please adjust the deficits to reflect the programs passed under Bush 43 that were unpaid for (two wars, a drug program, TARP 1, a few new government agencies, etc) and that Obama got magically stuck with. then we'll talk. the problem is that the Democrats don't want to moderate their programs (raising the age of retirement, creating requirements for collection of welfare, stop throwing money everyone) and the GOP doesn't want to come to terms with the fact that supply-side economics doesn't work, especially not the way they spend money. we need more moderates in both parties to control things. unfortunately, we need progressive tax increases combined with a decline in government spending (i'm thinking wars and a paranoid security-state specifically), and neither party is going to do this.

Posted by: ces62 | July 17, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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