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The GOP Is Just Not That Into The Deficit

There's a persistent tendency among many deficit hawks to wish away the central obstacle to their goal: namely, the Republican Party is totally unwilling to cooperate with their stated goal of reducing the deficit. Republicans think big government is a problem, and they are happy to use the deficit as a means of discrediting big government when Democrats are in power, but they do not consider deficits per se a major problem. That's why Ronald Reagan enacted huge tax cuts and defense spending increases, why George W. Bush did the same plus an unpaid for prescription drug benefit, and why conservatives revolted against George H.W. Bush's deficit-reduction deal.

David Brooks has a lovely column about a magic wonderland in which both parties sit down and agree to a solution that raises taxes, reduces spending, and places the biggest burden on the rich:

[O]nce the secret Congressional plan is passed to the White House, the deficit commission can unveil the thing as if it were the product of nonpolitical expertise. That would give the legislators some political cover, and all the Johnnies at the editorial pages and the think tanks will go into ecstasy. You’ll persuade the Tea Party-types that it will make government less intrusive. You’ll persuade business that it will be simple. You’ll persuade liberals that the rich will bear the biggest burden. Everybody will pay something, but everybody will see some benefit.

Except that in the real world, House Minority John Boehner is trying to force the deficit commission to produce its findings before the election, which of course would eliminate any chance of success. Like Brooks, I wish the deficit commission could work. But they seem determined to ignore mountains of evidence that it won't. They seem to think that Republicans are just pretending to fanatically oppose taxes to such a degree that they don't care what happens to the deficit. They're not pretending. They really don't care.

A bipartisan commission can give a party cover to do something it wants to do but is afraid of the voters. It can't make it do something it doesn't actually want to do.