it would be hard to pin-point the exact moment the Republicans pilfered the term “deficit-reduction” from the economic policy lexicon as their exclusive property. But it was one of those rip-offs that was made possible by the lack of vigilance by the victim, i.e. the Democrats. Too often, it seems, Dems have been complicit in framing a “Jobs vs. Deficit-reduction” false choice.
The meme successfully propagated by the GOP is that the only way Dems can balance budgets or reduce deficits is by levying taxes. The subtext is that Dems just don’t know how to cut government spending.
In Friday’s New York Times, David Leonhardt has an article, “OK, You Fix the Budget,” which serves as a backgrounder for the Times’ PDF widget “Get a Pencil: You’re Tackling the Deficit.” As Leonhardt explains,
…Rather than making recommendations, we are laying out a menu of major options, so that readers can come up with their own plan. We have received help along the way from the deficit panel, from Congressional and White House aides and from liberal, conservative and centrist budget analysts. The deficit puzzle on The Times’s Web site is the result.
The ultimate goal is to help you judge the deficit proposals that are now emerging. Do you think they cut spending too much and should raise taxes more? Or the reverse? Are they too aggressive or too meek on military spending? How will they affect income inequality? How might they help or hurt economic growth?
It’s a useful exercise in that it encourages Dems to think about the real-world choices that can help formulate a responsible budget, and more importantly shows that there are various menus of choices involving both budget cuts and tax policy that are acceptable to progressive as well as moderate Dems.
It also underscores the reality that, the non-starter Simpson-Bowles proposals notwithstanding, President Obama did not cave to conservatives simply by convening the deficit panel. Rather, he opened a new arena of progressive-conservative debate and struggle.