Democrats need to change the deficit debate. Here’s how.
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.
| March 9, 2011; 7:12 PM ET
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