For Decades Now?

I get cranky sometimes.

NYT economics reporter Catherine Rampell says:

Economists want spending cuts and/or tax increases that come after 2012, when the economy is expected to be stronger. But to use Standard & Poor’s lingo, cuts that take effect in 2012 may not be fully “credible.” Committing to future cuts/tax increases is just another way of kicking the can down the road, as Washington has been doing for decades now. Almost every time Congress promises painful fiscal measures at some future date, later politicians jump in to dismantle them just before they take effect.

This is just so massively wrong. Incredibly wrong. Totally, completely wrong.

“Decades”? The budget was balanced — in surplus — just over one decade ago. Because Congress did, in fact, implement various measures that were passed in the 1990 (bipartisan) and 1993 (partisan) deficit reduction packages. And: “later politicians”? Well, yes, and they even had names, and belonged to a political party: George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, and other Republicans. They didn’t so much “dismantle…painful fiscal measures” (although, yeah, they did that too), as that they enacted huge tax cuts. Sort of like the ones that got the budget into a mess in 1981. Which were, you know, also from Republicans.

(Note: in both cases, quite a few Democrats went along with the tax cuts, and fair enough from a deficit point of view to bash them for that — but they were obviously and clearly GOP policies).

I might be willing to say that the Gramm-Rudman scheme and other mid-1980s attempts to find gimmicks to reduce the deficit would fit in Rampell’s world, but certainly not the 1990 and 1993 plans. And certainly not anything since then.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.