For the better part of the past year, the editors of the Washington Post have been generically a-screech with worry over the deficits, and their insistence that the Obama administration needs to get serious about them. Well, today, the editors seem to have finally realized that the alternative is not much better, and that the GOP may actually not be all that serious about taming them either:
Are House Republicans serious about dealing with the deficit? You could listen to their rhetoric - or you could read the rules they are poised to adopt at the start of the new Congress. The former promises a new fiscal sobriety. The latter suggests that the new GOP majority is determined to continue the spree of unaffordable tax-cutting.
The ominous signs come in the wording of the new majority's version of its pay-as-you-go rules, which normally require that new programs or tax initiatives be covered with cuts to other programs or new revenue. In the GOP concept, pay-as-you-go applies only to spending programs. When it comes to tax cuts, it's all go, no pay. Taxes can be cut, and the national debt increased, without any offsetting savings.
The editors are referring to the new "cut-go" plan, which exempts tax cuts from the fiscal realities of the federal government's balance sheet. It seems to have caught them by surprise! Had they, say, availed themselves of their own paper's reporting, they might have caught a whiff of this coming from several million miles away. Let's check in with Washington Post reporter Lori Montgomery, circa September:
Even as they hammer Democrats for running up record budget deficits, Senate Republicans are rolling out a plan to permanently extend an array of expiring tax breaks that would deprive the Treasury of more than $4 trillion over the next decade, nearly doubling projected deficits over that period unless dramatic spending cuts are made.
Of course, the Obama administration's original stated plan was to sunset the tax cuts on top earners, which would have avoided expanding at least some of that massive debt hole. Democrats backed down from putting the GOP on the spot, however, punting the decision on the Bush tax cuts to the lame-duck session, when everyone buckled under the pressure of all the "hostage taking" that Obama would finally and impotently decry.
But when the White House struck its deal to extend the top-bracket tax cuts, the WaPo editors were incredibly enthusiastic. In a Dec. 23 editorial, they gushed that the "president and lawmakers have every reason to feel good about the closing weeks of the 111th Congress" and that the tax-cut deal specifically was an "achievement to be celebrated." No mention was made at the time at the way that same tax cut deal added to the deficits, because the glorious bipartisanship on display trumped all of those practical considerations.
The editors closed that piece by writing: "We continue to think the best strategy to keep an ugly spring from spoiling December's good cheer would be for Mr. Obama to rise above the fray with a long-term, make-the-hard-choices plan to reduce the nation's debt while fostering economic growth." Quite the ironic kicker, given that they were celebrating a decision that would achieve neither growth nor deficit reduction.
The Republican stance on the Bush tax cuts is an essential component to the philosophy of cut-go, so maybe the Post editors should have thought twice about celebrating it. At any rate, it seems that they are poised for an exquisite heartbreak, of which they were a brilliant ally. It sucks to be the last to know! Maybe next time around, they'll know better.