WASHINGTON -- One of the more noteworthy parts of the fallout over the debate on the Bush tax cuts is the opening it has given for progressives to grab the mantle of deficit hawkish-ness and fiscal responsibility.
Getting the nation's budget in order has always been viewed by liberal-minded economists as a bit of political gimmickry -- the type of feel-good line Republicans make with an eye on the ballot boxes, not job reports. But now, as a $900 billion agreement between the president and the GOP is set to be reached on expiring tax cuts, progressives have begun making a similar pitch.
"This is a short-term Washington fix," former DNC header Howard Dean declared on CBS's "Face the Nation." "It does nothing about this biggest long-term threat to America, which is the deficit. I don't hear Republicans or Democrats talking about the deficit. There is no pain in this agreement. This is the easy way out for everybody, much as everybody is complaining, hooting and hollering, this is an inside-the-beltway fuss and somebody needs to do something about the long-term problems to this country. It is not in this bill."
"The thing that bothers me about it is we have yet to deal with the biggest problem that is facing this country, which is the size of the deficit, and nobody is doing anything about it," the former Vermont Governor added later. "It is easy to promise everybody tax cuts all the time. You have got to make some cuts if you are going to do that."
Appearing on "Meet the Press," the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, was pressed on precisely these critiques and fell back on the tax deal's stimulative aspects.
"You cannot reduce the deficit if the economy is not growing, period," he said. "We should not be conflating medium-run deficit reduction with short-run getting out of recession and getting our economy growing."
What piqued Dean in particular, however, was a provision in the "framework" that provides a one-year, two-percent payroll tax holiday that, critics say, could end up siphoning money from the Social Security Trust Fund. The nation's largest senior-issues lobbying organization, the AARP, said it was comfortable with the provision -- confident that it won't be extended down the road.
But appearing alongside Dean on CBS, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), another critic of the president's tax deal, made the case that a Democratic president had just brought the retirement program squarely into the deficit debate.
"Governor Dean is entirely right about the long-term risk to Social Security here," said Nadler. "Now this one time, $120 billion tax cut in social security taxes will be paid for out of the general fund. But that, for the first time, starts getting the general fund to subsidize social security for $120 billion a year, and brings Social Security into the deficit debate, which greatly undercuts the political support to avoid eviscerating Social Security a few years down the road."