If “compromise” means an agreement that doesn’t satisfy anybody, then the past week’s Washington budget deal should be part of the dictionary definition.
We have an increase in the debt ceiling to avert immediate fiscal calamity; spending cuts predicted to eliminate about $2.1 trillion in deficits over 10 years; and a proposed 12-member bipartisan House-Senate committee to craft a longer-term debt/deficit reduction plan for an up-or-down vote of Congress.
President Obama, despite repeated vows that the Bush era tax cuts should expire, yielded (again) on that issue but held firm, for now, on Medicare.
The plan includes no provision for revenues, to the dismay of most Democrats and some Republicans; the Pentagon will absorb substantial cuts, to the dismay of most Republicans and some Democrats. A political stance as both a defense hawk and a budget hawk is a tough trick right now.
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If the 12-member Congressional budget committee can’t come up with a plan, or produces legislation that doesn’t survive both a congressional vote and the president’s signature, across-the-board cuts that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls “dangerous” are scheduled to take effect in 2013.
While the observation that the country has “a spending problem, not a revenue problem” is a popular one, especially (thought not exclusively) among Republicans, it’s only half right: We have both. Even Georgia’s Sen. Saxby Chambliss -- who tried to craft a bipartisan deal but ended up voting against this one -- alluded to “hundreds of provisions in the tax code that solely benefit special interests but do not provide benefits to most Americans. We all end up paying for these loopholes for a few.”
(Point of semantics: If the expiration of massive tax breaks deliberately written with a sunset date is a “tax increase,” then surely such expensive exemptions can be called “spending.”)
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner reportedly were close to a much better deal. Everything was on the table -- entitlements, taxes, discretionary spending, to the tune of some $4 trillion.
But they couldn’t sell it. What we got instead, wrote Calvin Woodward of Associated Press, were “speeches that changed no minds, votes that didn’t matter, dead-end detours taken by one party or the other as grist for political ads down the road Republicans put forward legislation that satisfied their ideologues but stood no chance of becoming law. Democrats responded in kind. It was a stage dance.”
That dance is over for now. If the next one comes to a grinding halt, $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts are scheduled to take effect in January 2013, the same time trillions more in Bush era tax cuts are now due to expire.
“If everybody does nothing,” said Robert Bixby of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, “it could have a very good result for the budget.”
That could be the saddest, and scariest, observation of all.