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The Debt Ceiling And Our Debt Problem

So I guess most people interested in politics have read David Brooks' freakout that the GOP won't move on increasing revenues in the debt ceiling negotiations.  I can't say that I blame the GOP on this one.  I can very easily see where the GOP moves on some kind of tax increase, the Democrats use that to erode the Republican brand as the party of lower taxes and then sandbags them on spending cuts.

The thing is I don't see much of a (positive) substantive endgame in this whole debt ceiling standoff.  The best case scenario is that Obama and the GOP pull off some kind of spending cut deal that does little to address our long-term fiscal situation and who cuts are incomprehensible to, and quickly forgotten by, the American public. 

If there is a debt ceiling-related train wreck in which Social Security benefits, military salaries, and reimbursements to Medicare providers are cut until a deal gets worked out, I don't see how the GOP doesn't get at least half the blame. The best that can be hoped for in that event is that the whole Washington atmosphere gets poisoned and people become more open to a pragmatic, detail-oriented businessman/technocrat - which just happens to be Mitt Romney's latest incarnation. It is at least as likely that Obama would emerge from such a confrontation with increased stature as protector of responsible governance against Republican irresponsibility.

The real Republican problem is that they haven't come up with a politically prudent plan that will bring the long-term budget down to a sustainable level.  The Ryan Path To Prosperity is a worthy effort and does bring the deficit to a sustainable level without raising taxes. The problem is that it probably expects to save too much from Medicare and Medicaid too quickly to be either good politics or very wise policy.  One can picture a Republican budget with a more realistic cost projections for Medicare spending, but I don't see how it gets there while being strictly revenue neutral.  That doesn't mean tax rates have to go up, but if tax rates don't go up, then tax expenditures will have to be cut to find the money. There is a space (and even more a need) for a Republican who can make the case for moving the tax code in both a higher revenue and pro-growth direction, reforming health care in a consumer-driven direction, and bringing spending down to a sustainable level.  The thing is I haven't seen any such Republican running for President.

Maybe things are just as tough on the other side.  Michael Kazin worries that Obama lacks the vision and toughness to pull American politics to the left in an enduring way.  I disagree. 

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