With federal budget deficits shrinking and due to shrink a bit more for the next few years, the wildly hospitable climate for deficit hawkery in Washington is about to turn a bit colder. It will be time for the fiscal scolds of the punditocracy to find a new topic. And Republicans will have to rely on arguments other than a “fiscal emergency” to justify their efforts to “reform” the New Deal and Great Society safety net programs.

Life after the Deficit Boogeyman has gone is the subject of my latest TPMCafe column. Here’s a sample:

Absent the cover of deficit reduction and all the associated rhetoric of generational equity and phony family budget analogies like “belt-tightening” and chopping up the credit cards, Republicans will no longer be able to argue for a significantly reduced set of government safety-net assurances and everyday investments as a sad but painful necessity. So they may well be forced to choose between a return to Bush-era indifference to deficits and debt, or an admission that deficits and debt have little to do with their vision of a smaller, meaner federal government that no longer undermines the moral fiber of needy people by helping them make ends meet.

I’d figure a return to fiscal indifference could happen any old day that a Republican becomes president. Barring that, it is a conundrum for those who have relied on rattling the hobgoblins of deficits and debt.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.