David Leonhardt complains that the business community likes to talk big about how damaging the deficit is, but in practice lobbies extensively for policies that would increase the deficit. Even the Business Roundtable, a supposedly moderate business group, lobbies for lower tax rates, more loopholes, and increased spending on stuff it cares about:

It’s easy to look at the squabbling politicians in Washington and decide that they are the cause of the country’s huge looming budget deficit. Certainly, they deserve some blame. The larger problem, though, is what you might call roundtable syndrome.

In short, there isn’t much of a constituency for deficit reduction. Sure, plenty of people and special-interest groups say that they are deeply worried about the deficit. But they are not lobbying for specific spending cuts or tax increases. They aren’t marshaling their resources to defend politicians who take tough stands, like President Obama’s 2009 Medicare cuts or Rand Paul’s proposed military cuts.

Well, look: business groups learned long ago that they no longer had to compromise. In 1986 they managed — barely — to support an agreement to remove lots of tax loopholes in return for lower corporate tax rates, but that was the last gasp of a dying era. Since then, the Republican Party, with an ever-growing assist from a newly corporatized Democratic Party, has made it clear that this kind of deal is no longer necessary. The business community can get lower rates and more loopholes, and once they get them they'll never have to give them back.

It's hardly a revelation that people prefer to raise taxes and reduce spending only on other people. Take taxes off the table, as they have been, and that leaves only spending cuts on others. In our current political environment, "others" means not businesses and not the elderly and not the middle class. By elimination, it means spending cuts on programs for the young and the poor, which is exactly what the Republican base has bent all its energies toward for the past 40 years. Here it is in terms everyone can understand:

"Deficit reduction" = spending cuts on social programs for the young and the poor.

Republicans don't want to cut the deficit. They want to cut liberal social programs. Anyone who continues not to understand this is simply being willfully ignorant.

The debt ceiling fight is sucking up all the wonk blogging oxygen these days, but I'm struggling to think of anything new to say about it. Republicans are great negotiators, Obama left himself wide open to lose this battle, Republicans are crazy, Democrats have no consistent position on offer, Republicans may benefit if the economy tanks, Democrats may benefit if independents conclude that Republicans are reckless and crazy, etc. etc. I guess it's worth repeating this stuff to make sure the point gets across, but there are only so many synonyms for "insane."

So instead, let's have a pool. Answer the following three questions:

  1. When will we finally reach a debt ceiling agreement? (The drop-dead date is supposedly July 22, with a second really-for-sure drop-dead date of August 2.)
  2. How much will the debt ceiling be increased? A lot (the full $2 trillion or so) or will it just be a stopgap ($400 billion or so)?
  3. Will it include any net revenue increases? How much?

I know, I know, I'm asking you to bet on the end of the world. And I'm not even offering any prizes. But the winner gains much commenting-fu in the coming year. Here's my entry: (1) August 7, (2) $1.7 trillion, (3) Yes, $200 billion.

"Given a choice," says McClatchy's Steven Thomma, "59 percent of Americans prefer reducing debt even if that slows the economic recovery." Thomma wouldn't lie about his own poll, but that's still a pretty gobsmacking result. So I had to go look for myself. And luckily for my sanity, I don't believe the poll says quite what Thomma thinks it does. Here's the detail:

It turns out only that most people want to reduce the national debt "even if the economy is slow to recover." That's quite a bit different from wanting to reduce the national debt "even if it causes the economy to be slow to recover." There's a little bit of association between spending and strength of recovery when you read both of the poll's options to people, but it's pretty thin.

At the same time, whether we like it or not, this poll does pretty clearly tell us two things: (a) most people probably don't link stimulus spending with helping the economy to recover faster, and (b) large majorities are pretty obsessed about cutting the national debt — and those large majorities cut across practically every demographic subgroup. If you want to know why President Obama is willing to cut a deal with Republicans to drastically cut federal spending, this is it. We liberals have miserably failed to make the case for stimulus spending, and as a result conservatives have spectacularly succeeded in reverting the American public to its default state of believing that the federal books should always be balanced, the same as household books. On this score, we've just been flatly outplayed over the past couple of years.

David Brooks is getting lots of hosannas today for a column that forthrightly calls the Republican Party nuts for its unwillingness to accept a debt ceiling compromise that's weighted something like 5:1 in favor of spending cuts and doesn't raise marginal tax rates a dime in order to generate its modest revenue increases. The GOP, he says, should grab a deal like this with both hands:

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise....The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities....The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency....The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

....If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

I've avoided commenting on this today because I didn't want to seem churlish. But on second thought, there's nothing wrong with some occasional churl, is there?

So here's my churlishness for the day: I'll believe that Brooks has seen the light when he actually keeps this up for a few consecutive weeks. I've never been a Brooks hater, but the fact is that he occasionally writes columns like this. Normally, though, having done it, he then devotes his next five or six columns to nitpicking at Democrats and pretending that they are, when all's said and done, just as bad as Republicans after all.

They aren't, of course. They're just a normal party with all the virtues and all the pathologies of any broad-based political party. That means it's easy to find a laundry list of things to criticize and then add them up to make it seem as if everyone's equally to blame for the insanity of our current political impasses. But it's not true, and it's long past time for non-insane conservatives to give up on this kind of faux Olympianism. As Brooks says, the GOP is no longer a normal political party and they are not fit to govern. The question is, will Brooks still believe that in a couple of weeks when — and it's bound to happen — Democrats do something he dislikes? I'll wait and see.

From Jon Chait, explaining how the definition of "reasonable" changes over time:

The GOP's willingness to undermine the full faith and credit of the Treasury in pursuit of anti-tax fundamentalism is shocking now, but eventually it will come to be seen as simply part of the process.

Yep. In the same way that Wall Street hoovering up a third of all corporate profits is the new normal. Or that 9% unemployment is the new normal. Or that obstruction, rather than legislation, is the new normal for Congress. Or that massive spending cuts during a recession is the new normal. Or that conducting three overseas wars at the same time is the new normal.

The new normal kind of sucks, doesn't it?

Today the blogosphere features a fight over "business process" patents — things like Amazon's patent for one-click checkout, for example. These have been abused pretty badly, and Wall Street is fighting back. How? They got Chuck Schumer to insert a special provision in a bill that changes the ground rules for challenging business process patents related to “a financial product or service.” It's good to have friends in high places, no?

Andrew Ross Sorkin is outraged. This provision "is perhaps the most blatant demonstration of the lobbying power of Wall Street and, just as important, the willingness of Congress to support the interests of the banks, even in the face of clear evidence that the law has no purpose other than to benefit the financial services industry."

Felix Salmon is a lot less outraged. "Sorkin’s attempts to defend the idea of financial business-method patents ring pretty hollow....The law will benefit the financial services industry. No one is arguing that point. And it will hurt rentiers with patents. The important question is whether it’s a good idea from a public-policy perspective. Sorkin ducks that question entirely. But the fact is that if we want a level playing field in financial services, getting rid of business-method patents is an extremely good idea."

But why fight over this? I officially declare everyone right today. Business process patents have been abused, and Felix is right that making them more difficult to get in the financial services arena is a good idea. At the same time, the fact that Wall Street is the only industry getting patent relief from Congress really is a blatant demonstration, in Dick Durbin's immortal words, of the fact that banks "frankly own the place."

I think the Schumer provision is terrible policy. We need to overhaul the way we handle business process patents, but the worst possible way to do that is to start singling out specific industries for special treatment. After all, having gotten what they wanted, do you think Wall Street will sign on to any future effort to broadly reform policy in the area of business process patents? Nope. They might even fight it if it would replace their special provision and possibly make them slightly worse off than before. This is practically a parody of bad lawmaking, and as with nearly anything having to do with Chuck Schumer and Wall Street, it's a terrible idea and deserves an early death.

Megan McArdle writes today that if Republicans really follow though on their insane threat to allow the United States to default on its debt, it would probably be good for Democrats in the 2012 election. A reader asks: if that's the case, then why are Democrats fighting so hard against it? Why not just let the default happen, blame Republicans, and then reap the benefits next November? Megan replies:

I think some version of this question is going through many conservative minds. But it commits a fundamental error: it assumes that this is some sort of zero-sum game....What the people asking this question are missing is that the budget needn't be zero-sum: it can be negative-sum. It is possible for the Democrats to lose without the Republicans winning. Both sides can end up worse off.

Nope. In this case, we're talking about a strictly zero-sum outcome set: 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, and the presidency. In pure partisan terms, if one side loses ground, the other side gains. That's completely independent of how default affects the country more generally.

So why are Democrats fighting against default? "Leave aside the naive thoughts that Democrats might be trying to avoid default because they, like, care something about the honor of their nation," says Megan. Indeed. I leave the rest of the blog post in the able hands of my commenters.

The LA Times' David Lazarus asks a question:

What is it about consumer protection that Republican lawmakers don't like? Is it that they want to see their constituents fleeced and flimflammed by businesses? Is it that they don't care?

Hmmm. Tough question. Let's keep reading:

Or is it something as craven as carrying water for corporate interests simply because that's where the money is?

Bingo! I think we have a winner. Read the whole thing for all the grim details.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the apparent murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist who had long been a thorn in the side of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service. On May 31, he was found in a canal 80 miles outside of Islamabad, tortured and beaten, with his cell phone wiped clean from the previous 18 days. Today, the New York Times reports that American intelligence is pretty sure that this was indeed the ISI's handiwork:

New classified intelligence [...] showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

....A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed. “Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

....It was possible that Mr. Shahzad had become too cavalier, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani columnist and author. “The rules of the game are not completely well defined,” she said. “Sometimes friendly elements cross an imaginary threshold and it is felt they must be taught a lesson.”

In other news, American intelligence continues to believe that the ISI and others are actively funding and supporting Taliban militant groups in Afghanistan. Quite a partner we have here.

Since I forced everyone to go through Inkblot withdrawal on Friday, here's some bonus catblogging for you. This year Inkblot is decked out in all his patriotic finery (i.e., a stars-and-stripes themed tablecloth that now has to be laundered before we can use it for tonight's festivities) and expressing the sentiment on every cat's mind when they think about the greatness that is America. Happy 4th, everyone!