The Washington Post

The debate over government spending led to gridlock

Knowing something about being an old drunk arguing about politics in a bar, I don’t mind going another round with Carter. The role of the government in the economy is still going to be part of the political discourse when our grandkids are Insiders.  I hope everyone talks about it more.

Carter’s last post is reasonable and thoughtful but too vague to be a meaningful part of a campaign that would give the winner a mandate to actually do something. Too much of what Democrats now call “investment” is just transfer payments to favored political constituencies.

There is little long-term legitimate asset-building on the U.S. Treasury’s theoretical balance sheet. There is no political incentive for the left to change. And no one on the right believes revenue from any new taxes would go toward anything other than the same old spending, stimulative to the economy or not.

Also, given that we have overspent by $5 trillion in the last 31 / 2 years, the case for writing even more bad checks offends common sense. Even if some of the spending was not wise, how could we have missed the stimulus target with that amount of money being spent during such a short period of time? Borrowing our way to prosperity clearly hasn’t worked.

That said, some of what Carter suggests is inevitable if we’re going to protect America’s greatness and its future. The problem is, neither party is rewarded for moving beyond imprecise rhetoric and parsed vocabulary. So what we’re left with is Democrats who can’t get past promises to tax and spend, and Republicans who say let people keep their money and let’s shrink government. This has been the political debate that has produced the gridlock that stifles us now. 

As I see it, the Democrats are mostly to blame for where we are. They won’t change anytime soon because they get elected by promising benefits, and they breed more supporters by expanding the number of beneficiaries. Somehow, this is overlooked by thoughtful Democrats like Carter and by scholars like Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, who recently declared with great fanfare that Republicans are the problem

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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