Congress is back this week, and that means the budget debate is back. I’ll give you two fictions and one truth that dominate the process.
Fiction one is the notion that voters care about the deficit. This one is explained by Greg’s “Beltway deficit feedback loop” — if politicians from both parties constantly say that the deficit is the big problem, then voters will echo back that the deficit is a big problem, leading those politicians to focus even more on deficits. But in reality, voters care about results, and that means jobs and economic growth. Voter (stated) concern about the deficit would melt away completely if politicians stopped talking about it; their concern about jobs, economic growth (and gas prices, and other such tangible things) would not.
Fiction two is that movement conservatives in general, and House Republicans in particular, are focused on the deficit. Simply not true; movement conservatives and House Republicans are focused on tax cuts and cutting many government programs. The budget that they passed does very little about the deficit over the first 10 years — it’s hard to say for sure, what with the magic asterisk and all, but basically it either raises the deficit or contains a whopping big middle class tax hike that they’re not admitting to, and I’d put my money on higher deficits.
Okay: now the truth. Sometime this year there will be a budget agreement that the House Republican leadership and President Barack Obama both endorse. We don’t know whether it will be a one-year, or a 10-year, or a 50-year agreement, but sooner or later there will be a deal, and a deal that both sides can live with. There’s no other way to keep the government running (and, separately, to prevent a default in August). So while all sides may believe that brinkmanship is the best negotiating strategy, they also need to know that eventually, they’re going to have to sign off on a deal. Neither side is going to “win” in the sense of eventually getting the other party to capitulate; politics, and the budget process, just doesn’t work like that.
Got it? Two fictions, one truth. Keep them in mind, and you’ll understand a lot more of what’s happening. More, perhaps, than some of the players in this drama seem to understand.