The austerity crisis and 2016

November 12, 2012

I want to be clear: This isn't a post about how the austerity crisis -- that's what Wonkblog will be calling it from now on -- will affect the 2016 election. It's the opposite: A post about how the 2016 election will affect the outcome of the austerity crisis.


Joshua Roberts -- Bloomberg

If you tick through the main Republican contenders for 2016 -- and through the Republican ranks more generally -- what you'll find are a lot of politicians who made their names by promising to be the very best at bringing down deficits. That describes Paul Ryan, of course, but it also describes Chris Christie, and Rand Paul. Their political careers are based on being the toughest, meanest, deficit hawk in all the land.

But what if we get some "grand bargain" over the next year? Add that to the likely economic recovery over the next four years, and 2016 probably isn't going to be about who can cut the most from the deficit. Maybe it'll be about foreign policy. Maybe it'll be about splitting the spoils of growth. What it won't be about is Medicare cuts.

A similar thing happen to the Republican Party in the 90s, when folks like Newt Gingrich rose to power based on their promise to spare no poor retiree while balancing the budget, but by the time of the 2000 election, deficits were no longer a concern, and so George W. Bush got the nomination while promising to be a "compassionate conservative." 

There are a number of powerful Republicans who would see their futures dimmed by a grand bargain that credibly puts deficits on a declining trajectory. That's going to make it harder for them to agree to such a bargain -- a particular problem given that one of them chairs the House Budget Committee and is the GOP's most admired voice on fiscal issues. Politicians aren't purely cynical, of course, but they do have a funny way of convincing themselves that whatever is in their political self-interest is also the best policy.

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Sarah Kliff | November 12, 2012