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Posted at 7:12 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Democrats need to change the deficit debate. Here’s how.

By Ezra Klein

The Senate agreed not to agree on how to keep the government funded this afternoon. The Republican bill failed 44 to 56. The Democratic bill failed 42 to 58. Note that the Democratic bill got fewer votes in a chamber controlled by Democrats -- not a good sign.

The White House was optimistic. “We’re turning the page,” Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew told me. “I hope it makes clear that we’re in a place where we need to find middle ground.”

I’m not convinced. If I were a Republican strategist, I’d look at this vote and see that my side is considerably more united than the Democrats. The closer the government gets to shutting down, the less likely moderate Democrats are to hold the line.

In a speech at the Center for American Progress today, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer laid out a strategy that might get those moderates comfortable again. They feel they need to be on the side of deficit reduction, not government spending. The opening Schumer sees is that Republicans have limited their cuts to the 12 percent of the budget that’s non-defense discretionary spending. “Tax cuts and expanded mandatory programs are a large part of what got us here,” Schumer said, “and they are going to have to be part of the solution.”

When I asked Lew about it, he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. “The first order of business is we need to resolve fiscal 2011 funding,” he said. “We can’t keep doing it two weeks at a time.” That’s true, but we also can’t load all our cuts onto 2011 and choke off the economic recovery, and we can’t make the programs in the non-defense discretionary category bear the full brunt of the GOP’s promise to cut spending. Polls show that the public is more worried about job creation than deficits, and insofar as they are worried about deficits, they prefer tax hikes on the rich and cuts to defense spending to the sort of service cuts that the GOP is considering.

The reality is that the Republican Party isn’t fighting for deficit reduction. It’s fighting for a limited set of spending cuts -- and not a wisely chosen set at that. Democrats could propose legislation that does more to cut the deficit and less to injure job growth; they just have to break out of the cramped confines that the GOP has erected.

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 7:12 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Grover Norquist: ‘The goal is to reduce the size and scope of government spending, not to focus on the deficit’
Next: What happened in Wisconsin tonight


Where's the "Here's how" part?

Posted by: lauren2010 | March 9, 2011 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, gotta go with Lauren on that one. I learned the parameters of the debate, just not how to break free.

Posted by: mpjohn10 | March 9, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

This is just so simple and straightforward it will never work!

I wish our leaders could do something that makes sense, but no, countering the pain caucus with a proposal that does more to reduce the long run deficit while inflicting less immediate pain would make too much sense, so it will not happen.

Instead, we will see capitulation, pain, and inevitably, blame.

Posted by: will12 | March 9, 2011 7:33 PM | Report abuse

To above commenters:

"Democrats could propose legislation that does more to cut the deficit and less to injure job growth; they just have to break out of the cramped confines that the GOP has erected. "

Posted by: will12 | March 9, 2011 7:34 PM | Report abuse

krugman's hair-on-fire stimulus rants in early 09 were on the money & there's nothing more the guy could've done, he couldn't've been more loud and clear.

2010 Q4 gdp revised down? education cuts & tax cuts

Posted by: jackjudge4000yahoocom | March 9, 2011 7:52 PM | Report abuse

The middle ground is there, for those willing to recognize it: the $50 billion mark is within reach -- and it tosses a bone to the remaining Senate tax-and-spenders, at least partially fulfills the promises of the more recently elected, and offers a glimmer of hope to Democrats seeking re-election.

There WILL be cuts far larger than those now contemplated by the progressive fringe. Klein is correct in that Reid and the President's remaining allies are in a very weak bargaining position and run the risk of being made to look even more foolish. Capitulation is the only real option available.

Speaking of foolishness and capitulation, the most overlooked headline of the day involved the Historically Super-Awesome Obama/Pelosi PPACA: Maine became the first state to be granted a waiver of crippling provisions in the Obama/Pelosi PPACA. Maine, along with Kentucky, Nevada, and New Hampshire have requested PPACA waivers and twenty-six other states -- a majority of the Sovereign States -- have prevailed in litigation against the PPACA.

Lobby corporations controlled by Democrats -- Center for American Progress Action Fund, for example -- maintain that the Obama/Pelosi PPACA is popular and saves money. These same lobby corporations oppose federal fiscal responsibility, too.

Posted by: rmgregory | March 9, 2011 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Poll after poll shows the American people in favor of raising taxes on the rich and wanting job creation before deficit reduction. With the Republican budget both not raising taxes and killing 700,000 jobs, this is a gimme. But where's the Democratic leadership?

Posted by: steveandshelley | March 9, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Steveandshelley, whole heartedly.

I have an idea, if you're a Democrat -- act like one - why talk about deficits, what about jobs?! Nobody cares about deficits if they have a .... job.

How about some leadership? This game where Repubos say boo and Dems jump is very, very, very old. I would almost say, that America has a one party system.

Posted by: comma1 | March 9, 2011 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Let's spend so much money that our great grand children will be living in poverty. Oh yeah, the govt. is already doing that.

Posted by: dcharlson | March 10, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

-------Let's spend so much money that our great grand children will be living in poverty. Oh yeah, the govt. is already doing that.-----------
Yea and the Republicans plans to cut spending that saves us money in the long run isn't going to magically help improve the economy or the deficit.
First the republicans vote against health care reform, which expands coverage to 35 million Americans, improves health care quality for every American and ends up reducing overall health care costs.
Then Republicans voted to increased the deficit by 800 billion in order to give billionaires millions of dollars.
Now they want to reduce the deficit by tens of billion by cutting programs that save the country money in the long run, and by cutting programs for the poor.
The Republican agenda makes more people poor and ruins more lives in order to make billionaires richer.
I should keep going on and on but you're to stupid to even read so its just a waste.

Posted by: mynameisblehbleh | March 10, 2011 8:37 PM | Report abuse

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