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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A “common-sense populist” solution to the deficit – let the American people decide what to do.

Several weeks ago TDS published a strategy memo which argued that participatory systems of democratic decision-making would not only give Americans more confidence in government but would also generally produce more progressive policies than the beltway consensus as well.
The current debate over the budget deficit provides a rather dramatic example of this proposition. A commentary in the New York Times noted the following:

With help from some of our techno-genies, (New York Times economics editor David Leonhardt) devised an interactive graphic that lets you choose from a menu of tax increases and spending cuts and benefit tweaks until the budget balances. In short, he crowd-sourced the deficit.
Nearly 9,000 readers worked the puzzle. Individually, they were all over the map. But as a group, they accomplished the goal by splitting the difference: almost exactly half the savings came from tax increases, half from spending cuts. Collectively, readers seemed to realize that the hole we’re in is too deep to be filled by tax increases alone or spending cuts alone.
The result is broadly consistent with polls, which show that a majority of American voters hate most tax increases and a majority hate cutting entitlements, but — confronted with a choice of one, the other or some of each — they’ll go for the hybrid.

The current Washington debate, on the other hand, is grotesquely overweighted toward spending cuts. Even the so-called “compromise” Gang of Six plan is expected to produce a proposal requiring three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of higher revenue.
As Jon Chait notes:

Why such a skewed distribution? They’re trying to forge a compromise between Democrats who have a commitment to support certain programs and Republicans who oppose higher taxes as a matter of principle — and, indeed, hew to a longstanding doctrine that refuses to acknowledge any connection between tax levels and the deficit…inevitably, any deal between such mismatched sides is going to be skewed.

Now, it is undoubtedly true that the average reader of the New York Times is more liberal than the median American voter. But the fact that national polling data indicates broadly similar preferences for an approach balanced between tax increases and spending cuts suggests that a participatory democracy exercise giving several thousand Americans the opportunity to design a plan would produce a result that would be more progressive, more democratic and more acceptable to most Americans than anything likely to come out of Washington.
An approach of this kind would also have one other benefit: Republicans would hysterically oppose the idea because they could not control the outcome. This would dramatically show Americans how little they really care about the opinions of ordinary citizens and how hollow are their claims to be genuine representatives of the “real America”.

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