The contrarian defense

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not fond of the debt-reduction agreement reached yesterday. I’m generally more inclined to blame the hostage-takers (congressional Republicans) than the one who paid the ransom (President Obama), but aside from assigning blame, but like lefties everywhere, I haven’t found much to like about this deal.

But with nearly every center-left writer offering the same kind of criticisms, I suppose it’s worth noting the contrarians: lefties who don’t mind the deal as much (or at least, pieces making the case that the left shouldn’t mind the deal that much).

Time‘s Jay Newton-Small, for example, isn’t known for being a liberal, but she noted “five things for liberals to like in the debt-ceiling deal.” JNS concluded, “In a world where the Tea Party didn’t exist, would this be a good bill for Democrats? Absolutely not. But considering that the trigger, commission, two-step process and discretionary budget cuts could’ve been a LOT worse — and actually were in Boehner’s version of the bill — this deal will be easier to swallow.”

The NYT‘s Nate Silver, who is progressive, certainly doesn’t seem crazy about the debt agreement, arguing, “If Democrats read the fine print on the debt deal struck by President Obama and Congressional leaders, they’ll find that it’s a little better than it appears at first glance.”

First, the timing: the cuts are heavily back-loaded, so the deal is unlikely to have much direct effect on the economy in 2012…. The bill, in short, is not likely to have profound effect on the recovery in the near-term.

And what about the cuts themselves? Silver emphasizes the burden on the Pentagon budget.

If you’re a Democrat and you must accede to $1.5 trillion in cuts — and that’s literally the situation that Democrats will find themselves in if the deal passes through Congress — it’s going to be hard to do better than this $1.5 trillion in cuts. They are very heavily loaded with defense cuts, while containing few changes to entitlement programs or to programs which benefit the poor.

What’s more, Jon Chait is on board with this sort of thinking: “Obama should have avoided the hostage scenario, but once he blundered into it, he managed to escape on relatively favorable terms.”

Salon‘s War Room has a piece arguing Obama was left with no other choices; Sam Youngman has a piece in The Hill pointing to the positives for liberals in the agreement, and readers have sent in other items, like this one, that are circulating today, arguing this deal could be worse.

Ultimately, none of the defenses of the deal are wrong or misleading. They’re pointing to real provisions that are in the bill that make the larger package less offensive, and I’m glad those measures survived the negotiations.

But whether one considers them positive improvements or merely a little sugar to make nasty medicine taste a little better is, I suppose, largely a matter of expectations and standards.