“Deficit Reduction” in Plain English


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.