The deficit, euphemisms, and hard choices
To reduce the deficit, politicians need to start being more frank in their discussions
If we are going to make real progress on deficit reduction, politicians will, sooner or later, have to stop talking in code. The “adult conversation” they pine for will have to be candid and explicit. So far, it is not.Skip to next paragraph
Howard Gleckman is a resident fellow at The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, the author of Caring for Our Parents, and former senior correspondent in the Washington bureau of Business Week. (http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of 64 senators signed a letter urging President Obama to “engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package.” This conversation, said the lawmakers, should include “discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes, and tax reform.”
No it shouldn’t. It should include discretionary spending cuts, reductions in the growth of social insurance programs, and tax increases coupled with broad-based reform.
At the same time, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) told the Wall Street Journal that he wants to lower the top tax rate for individuals and corporations to 25 percent. Well, don’t we all. What he didn’t say was in order to get there without adding to the deficit , we are going to have to slash cherished tax deductions, credits, and exclusions by about $2 trillion over a decade. And even that wouldn’t move the country a millimeter down the road of fiscal balance. It would only leave us no worse off than today.
Today, a bipartisan group of 68 respected economists and policy experts (including my Tax Policy Center colleagues Donald Marron, Rudy Penner, Gene Steuerle, and Bill Gale) signed a letter calling for fiscal consensus based upon “the recommendations of [President Obama’s] Fiscal Commission.” But they carefully added, lifting the words of the senators’ letter, “we may not agree with every aspect of the Commission’s recommendations.”
Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing that 64 senators of both parties are willing to engage, however hesitantly, in deficit reduction talk. And it may even be helpful when 68 policy experts urge them to keep it up. It certainly beats the alternative. But at some point, Obama and Congress are going to have to, as an old football coach used to say, quit tippy-toein’ through the tulips. Sooner or later, they will have to move beyond the indulgence of obfuscation.