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Economist Mom

What is a deficit hawk…or panda…or peacock?

Anyone who offers a serious plan to reduce the deficit, no matter what the plan may be, deserves the moniker

By Guest blogger / April 28, 2011

A pair of red-tailed hawks are seen on their nest with a rabbit and their newly hatch young Tuesday, April 26, 2011, at the The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Who deserves the "deficit hawk" label?

Matt Rourke / AP

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The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent questions the true “hawkishness” of some who label themselves “deficit hawks”:

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As I noted some time ago, the term “deficit hawk,” as it’s commonly used in Beltway discourse, simply doesn’t mean “someone who fully committed to reducing the deficit by any means necessary, even if it means tax hikes and — paradoxically enough — new government programs.” Rather, it means “someone who is fully committed to reducing the deficit through tax cuts, entitlement reform and an unswerving adherence to general hostility towards expansive government.”…

[I]magine if everyone who used the term “deficit hawk” agreed that it should refer only to those want to reduce the deficit by any means necessary, with nothing at all taken off the table. The conversation would start to sound very different, wouldn’t it?

It sounds to me like Greg’s saying a lot of Tea Party types label themselves “deficit hawks”–and that’s probably true. But I cringe when I hear that, because to be opposed to deficits does not mean one is opposed to big government. It just means that if I am for big government but against deficits, I have to be for higher taxes. And if I am for smaller government and lower taxes, but against deficits, I have to be for the tough benefit cuts that make that math work out. I think Paul Ryan has pretty clearly spelled out that he is a deficit hawk of the latter type (even if the details of the proposed benefit cuts are not yet spelled out), that the Progressive Caucus in Congress has spelled out that they’re deficit hawks of the former type (closing the deficit with mostly tax increases–but also defense cuts), and that President Obama is trying to forge a deficit-hawkish path somewhere in the middle.