Is this really a raw deal for Democrats?(Read article summary)
The deal put an end to the stalemate in Washington, but it did not actually do much in terms of policymaking
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Bill Gale of the Brookings Institution provides an excellent summary of the good and the bad in the debt limit deal. The major â€śgood newsâ€ť is that if this breaks the impasse on passing an increase in the debt limit, the U.S. will avoid immediate default on its debt. The â€śbad newsâ€ť is there wasnâ€™t much movement in terms of actual bipartisan policymaking, and the Democrats seem to have totally caved in to the Norquist-led entrenchment of the Republicans on taxesâ€“as in No New Ones.
There are no revenue increases in this first round of deficit reduction, and if the second roundâ€™s special committee of sitting members of Congress (yet to be named) fails to agree on enough deficit reduction, the triggered automatic cuts will leave tax policy untouched as well.
Bill puzzles over the Democratsâ€™ poor negotiating strategies on this issue:
[T]hat leads directly into the remarkable politics of the situation. The deal that was enacted is, politically, a complete capitulation by the Democrats. There are no tax increases as part of the initial trillion-dollar package. That package is all spending cuts, which was the original Republican position.
Itâ€™s particularly notable that the deal is all spending cuts when public opinion clearly wanted a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. In just the most recent example of this fact, a July 18-20 CNN/ORC International poll showed that almost two-thirds of respondents preferred a deal with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Only 34% preferred a debt reduction plan based solely on spending reductions. Also, the plan that was enacted was significantly to the right of the Gang of Six proposal and the Bowles-Simpson commission. Itâ€™s as if the two parties each started out on their own 25 yard line. The Dems moved to the 50 yard line, while the Râ€™s moved back to their own goal line. Then the agreement was settled on the Republicanâ€™s 25 yard line, right where the Republicans started.
The proposal to enact the new commissionâ€™s policies or enact an automatic trigger virtually guarantees no new taxes because the automatic cuts are all on the spending side. The Obama administrationâ€™s defense of this is, in Gene Sperlingâ€™s words, quoted by CNN: â€śYou want to make it hard for them just to walk away and wash their hands. You want them to say, if nothing happens, there will be a very tough degree of pain that will take place.â€ť While I have affection and respect for Sperling, and his comment reflects a sound strategy, that strategy has nothing to do with the actual outcome in this case. If the Democrats wanted the Republicans to bear â€śpainâ€ť or to pay attention to a â€śreform or elseâ€ť situation, they would have been well-advised to include tax increases in the â€śor elseâ€ť part. It is certainly not going to be easier to negotiate with the Republicans when the do-nothing alternative is all spending cuts.
Iâ€™m annoyed, too, but Iâ€™ve been annoyed with the Democratsâ€™ (including most importantly President Obamaâ€™s) position on the Bush tax cuts for years. And I am more hopeful about the â€śsecond roundâ€ť possibilities than Bill is. For one thing, Speaker Boehner spelled out his interpretation of the â€śno new taxesâ€ť pledge in his powerpoint presentation on â€śthe deal.â€ť It calls for tax reform that sticks to the â€ścurrent-law baseline,â€ť suggesting that that prevents taxes from being raised. But that only prevents revenue levels from coming up relative to current law, which has all of the Bush tax cuts expiring at the end of 2012. It certainly doesnâ€™t rule out revenues coming up relative to current policy, which is fully-extended and deficit-financed Bush tax cuts. Thereâ€™s a difference between the two standards thatâ€™s worth $2.5 trillion over ten years by the Bush tax cuts alone. So thereâ€™s a lot of room for a second round of deficit reductionâ€“I mean deficit reduction relative to â€ścurrent policyâ€ť only, not current lawâ€“thatâ€™s quite heavy on the revenue side of the budget, if this is where Boehner means to go with this.
This would turn out to be quite a good deal for the Democrats who want revenues to be an important part of the solution. It would raise revenue and reduce the deficit even more than President Obama himself has ever proposed. So maybe we shouldnâ€™t consider â€śthe dealâ€ť as one where Democrats gave away everything to the Republicans. I think theyâ€™re genuinely negotiating with themselves, too. And Republicans will have to come to grips with what they as a party really mean by â€śno new taxes.â€ť Perhaps the most important negotiations over the next few months leading up to the â€śnext roundâ€ť of policy agreements will be within each of the political parties rather than between them.
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