More Deficit Kabuki

Unsurprisingly, deficit hawks, real and phony, have greeted the new CBO report acknowledging that the FY 2012 budget deficit will exceed a trillon dollars with the usual shouts of doom. That is particularly true of Republican pols, who argue that it’s a sign for a radically different economic and budget strategy–beginning, of course, with steps to make the single biggest controllable factor contributing to recent increases in the deficit, the Bush tax cuts, permanent.

Ezra Klein points out, as he often does, that CBO also estimates that if Congress does nothing but extend current policies, the deficit will rapidly decline after 2012. But that would require two things that just ain’t happening–refusal to “patch” the Alternative Minimum Tax, thus exposing millions of upper-middle-class taxpayers to higher rates, and refusal to “temporarily” adjust Medicare reimbursement rates for providers, another annual ritual needed to keep our rickety health care system functioning. It would also require allowing the Bush tax cuts to lapse as currently planned, but that, of course, is intolerable to Republicans, who want more, not fewer, high-end tax cuts.

Ezra argues–again, hardly for the first time–that the intelligent way to deal with the deficit problem is to come up with a credible long-term strategy that protects short-term economic recovery and does not rely on short-term “fixes”–i.e., more tax cuts–that likely won’t help the economy but will vastly boost the deficit and/or force spending cuts that will immensely damage the economy, not to mention our society.

We are nowhere near having that kind of strategy unless the current elections produce at least a minor breakthrough. For now, despite all the periodic deficit hysteria, markets don’t seem that worried about it, and certaintly aren’t demanding the kind of austerity policies the GOP is both implicitly and explicitly supporting. So feel free to ignore the latest panic from the green-eyeshade set, particularly those whose agenda really has nothing to do with the budget or the economy, and everything to do with making the tax code more regressive and getting rid of the social safety net.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.