A Normal Budget

The President’s FY 2016 budget is out, and perhaps the best way to look at it is as the first budget of the Obama presidency that doesn’t have some sort of overhang–big or small–of Deficit Panic.

Yes, of course, deficit hawks will OMG the total price tag of $4 trillion and wax nostalgic for the days when people wore bread bags on their shoes and there were no U.S. Departments of Education or Energy. But the reality is that Obama’s budget holds the deficit to the average percentage of GDP that it has represented over the last 50 years. It will be interesting to see if the conservatives who have found feigned panic over the deficit to be a useful device for demanding domestic spending reductions are going to begin a pivot towards the cut-spending-and-taxes-and-the-deficit-will-take-care-of-itself supply-side messaging a Republican administration would almost certainly embrace.

Even if deficit hawkery is in abeyance, the core deal at the heart of Obama’s budget–increased taxes on inherited wealth and financial transactions in exchange for middle-class tax cuts–is going nowhere; Republicans are chanting “redistribution” as a one-word dismissal, as though their own tax cut and “reform” proposals don’t redistribute income as well (just generally in a different direction).

But it’s going to be interesting to see if a secondary deal Obama is offering–a cut in corporate tax rates in exchange for a one-time tax on overseas profits and assets–goes somewhere, whether or not it is shaped to generate the revenues to pay for the infrastructure projects many Republicans favor. That’s where we will see the actual bipartisan negotiations in the next few weeks. And for better or worse, it does sound like some old-fashioned “normal” partisan jockeying.

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.