Don't just sit there. Do nothing.
Due to the nature of the U.S. Senate, doing nothing is always and everywhere easier than doing something. After all, doing nothing takes only 41 votes. Doing something takes 60 votes. So when you hear Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition say that "the easiest option [is] policymakers simply need to do nothing and let current law play out," he's not lying.
For the deficit hawks in Congress, the next few months are going to offer a rare and valuable opportunity: They can do nothing and bring the federal budget much closer to balance. At issue is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. If allowed to lapse, they'd improve the deficit outlook by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years -- and more after that. As Joshua Gordon writes, "the difference in the publicly held debt resulting from [extending the tax cuts] represents an amount of money larger than the country's total economic output in 2035. Debt held by the public would be 187 percent of GDP instead of the 79 percent it would be under current law."
Further, imagine if Congress is able to extend the deficit-busting Bush tax cuts but not unemployment benefits. But that, of course, is what most people think they're going to do. This will be a test for any politician who claims to care about the deficit. If they're willing to let the tax cuts expire -- a tough decision, given the politics of taxes -- it's good evidence that they're serious about cutting the debt. If they're not willing to let the cuts expire, it's irrefutable evidence that they're not.
Graph credit: CBO
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