Define ‘seriousness’

DEFINE ‘SERIOUSNESS’…. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) generated quite a bit of attention for himself yesterday, questioning the White House “seriousness” on the budget. Asked specifically about fiscal issues, the Republican told CBS, “I’ve a number of conversations with people who count at the White House, and I think that so far I don’t see the level of seriousness that we need.”

It’s an odd argument from a lawmaker who not only helped create a budget mess — voting in lock-step with Bush as he added $5 trillion to the debt — but who’s also rejected a wide variety of Democratic measures that would reduce the deficit McConnell pretends to care about.

With this in mind, now is an excellent time for a little reality check. Jon Chait explained this morning:

The long-term budget deficit is primarily a function of explosive health care cost growth. We have a new law in place attempting to resolve the problem. The Republican Party is working feverishly to undermine that law. One of the oddities of the current moment is that the political class (though not the public as a whole) is laser-focused on the budget deficit as the central problem in American life, yet the discussion of the deficit is taking place as though none of the above facts were true. On national television, Mitch McConnell is sadly proclaiming that the administration is not serious about the long-term deficit.

Right. Everyone agrees the most serious long-term budget challenge is health care costs. The Affordable Care Act helps — remember the whole “bend the cost curve” debate? — and McConnell wants to repeal it, necessarily making the budget challenges much worse. Just as he demanded needless tax cuts for millionaires late last year, necessarily making the budget challenges much worse.

And yet, McConnell has a straight face when he talks about a much-needed “level of seriousness,” which only he’s providing.

The host and the political establishment tend to accept this at face value, because to be “serious” about fiscal issues is to support cutting entitlements, cutting public services, and leaving the wealthy alone.

At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

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