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Why Hyper-Partisans Have no Credibility on Deficit Reduction

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What do Nancy Pelosi, Jim DeMint, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and conservative anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist all have in common? Easy, hyper-partisianship and a hatred of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction proposal.

It's not often that proposed fiscal policy draws such heavy fire from both sides of the aisle, and even more unusual for Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich to agree even indirectly. The Bowles-Simpson proposal has however, in the criticism it's received, succeeded in making one thing glaringly clear. Neither the far left nor the far right have any credibility when it comes to deficit reduction.

While they may differ ideologically, extreme conservatives and extreme liberals share the same basic philosophy about the nature of fiscal policy. Each side views its own ideas on taxes and spending, increased spending and higher taxes for Democrats, decreased taxes (though not always decreased spending) for Republicans, not as economic questions but as a moral ones. For staunch partisans, decisions on who to tax and how much to spend are all too often about being "good" or "bad" people and not economic responsibility.

The inability to compromise that characterizes the far left and right in American politics means that fiscal policy is constantly framed as a false choice between two extremes. Any serious economist will say that you can't be serious about deficit reduction, and, as Rand Paul has suggested, completely refuse to consider across the board tax hikes. At the same time, Pelosi's opinion that the government will somehow be able to balance its budget with increased tax revenues and not touch entitlement spending is just as unrealistic. It doesn't take an economist to see that deficit reduction will require a mix of higher taxes and lower spending, and that each party must sacrifice a few of its sacred cows. This approach however, will require compromise that falls somewhere in the political grey area between both extremes. Most hyper-partisans tend to be deathly scared of grey area and middle ground.

In the end, the last best hope for American fiscal sanity lies squarely on the shoulders of moderates and young voters. Someone needs to have the courage to open up a high school economics textbook and bravely realize that we can both raise taxes and decrease spending. Young voters need to recognize that the debate over social security ultimately means very little to those who are going to be dead by 2037 anyway. Nancy Pelosi might find the Bowles-Simpson plan "simply unacceptable" and Jim DeMint might give it "two thumbs down," but I as a young voter say the same things about the obsolete fiscal mindset that sacrifices the long term morality of a strong economic foundation for petty and ultimately meaningless short term political ideology.

The policy aspects of the Bowles-Simpson proposal are certainly open to debate and even the pair themselves are honest about its imperfections. Any serious debate on debt reduction will not succeed however, unless it recognizes that the greatest morality of all has nothing to do with transfer payments to the elderly or tax cuts, but lies in a country that simply doesn't go broke. Many take the cynical view and believe that the psychological challenges to a balanced budget, gridlocked partisanship and the fact that spending money is an addiction, are simply too great and that America will have to face a crisis along the lines of Greece or Ireland in order to restore a sense of fiscal reality. This bow to human nature may indeed be the case. There are also those however, who refuse to accept an America that succumbs to what Erskin Bowles has called, "The most predictable economic crisis in history." There are those with the self-discipline not to be hit by the fiscal train inching towards them. Competent economic stewards do exist, but you'll find them intelligently in the middle, not at CPAC or Netroots Nation.