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Democrats And Deficits

The New York Times noted over the weekend that many Democrats (mostly, but not exclusively, liberals) think that if 2009 offers a reprise of 1993's choice between new spending and deficit reduction, we should make a difference choice this time and opt for the path of Robert Reich, rather than Bob Rubin. Sam Boyd over at TAPPED endorses this view, but recognizes the problem here: if neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to be grown-ups when it comes to the budget, then sooner or later we're probably going to run into big trouble. Sam concludes, "Democrats need to realize that, while prioritizing policy over balance is the right choice right now, in the long run things may get much worse before they get better."

I think it's worth pushing this question a little further: if Democrats do decide that balancing the budget should take a back seat to new spending, how is this actually going to play out over the course of the next decade or two? If deficits spiral out of control and interest payments eat up an ever-growing portion of the federal budget, who's most likely to bear the costs of returning to stability? The problem here for Democrats is that the party that expects more out of government is at an inherent disadvantage in a game of fiscal chicken like this. Of course the ideal scenario for conservatives would be to have low levels of taxation and low levels of spending, but the more you listen to people like Grover Norquist, the more you realize they're surprisingly willing to live in a world of low taxes, higher levels of spending, and the disarray that results. Since, in their view, government is bad regardless of whether its budgetary house is in order, the chief concern is simply limiting tax collection (which is why, for instance, conservative voters in Orange County refused to raise taxes on themselves even though the alternative was a meltdown of county government). By contrast, those of us who think the federal government serves an important function, and would prefer that Uncle Sam not follow the path of Orange County in the 1990s or Latin America in the 1980s, have an obligation, unsatisfying as it may be, to care about limiting the size of the deficit even when most Republicans don't seem to.

 --Josh Patashnik

P.S.: Unrelatedly, I would like to note for the record that whatever Jason Zengerle may believe, I am not, and have never been, a Red Sox fan. I was yelling at the TV as loudly as anyone in Cleveland when Joel Skinner inexplicably held Kenny Lofton at third base on Sunday night.