Cuts First!

Cut First! Andrew Sullivan (along with Ezra Klein and every other respectable center-left writer)  believes the solution to the deficit problem will require a “balanced” mix of budget cuts and tax increases. Of course it will. But that doesn’t mean the partial deficit cut package Obama negotiates now has to include tax increases.  Why can’t we have a deal with just tough spending cuts (and some stimulative short-term tax cuts)? We can raise taxes later.**

Sullivan is guilty of punditism.  He wakes up every  morning believing he must have a full solution for each and every policy problem. Then the policymakers can implement these thoughtful solutions–sort of like pressing a button. Cuts and tax increases! Shared sacrifice! That’s the fair and responsible plan. Where’s my check?

But policies can’t be implemented by pressing a button, or saying “Let’s do what Sullivan says.” Deals must be honored over time, and parties rightfully distrust each other. Opponents of illegal immigration, for instance, don’t trust “comprehensive” reformers to follow through on the border-enforcement part of the deal once they have their amnesty (they didn’t after 1986). So sequencing becomes important. Do the “enforcement” parts first, to gain the trust of the restrictionists. Then, after a few years, amnesty is possible. Try to do it all at once and it doesn’t happen, as we’ve seen.

Same with the deficit, no? Opponents of bloated government don’t trust politicians to make cuts if extra revenues are in the offing. Neither, sensibly, do many voters.  But if you make dramatic cuts, demonstrate you’ve sweated out the fat–and there’s still a deficit, you’ve got a shot at getting a tax increase through. Cuts First! You could start with the Department of Education’s Office of  Civil Rights.

In any case. it’s inane to argue that every step on the road to deficit reduction has to be a balance of cuts and tax increases. That’s like saying you can’t take a piss unless you’re taking a drink.

P.S.: It’s not as if a cuts-only deal to avert a debt-ceiling crisis would be the easy way out. Cuts are hard–arguably harder, at the national level, than even raising taxes, which is why, as now, adding revenues is so often the politicans’ path of less resistance. We are also up against the syllogism:

a) If you can’t cut the fat out of government during economic bad times, because, hey, we need the stimulus of government spending and

b) You can’t cut the fat out of government during economic good times, because,’ Hey, there’s plenty of tax revenue so why the sense of urgency?,’ then

c) When will you ever cut the fat out of government? Never, that’s when. Instead it will build up over the decades like sediment until we reach … the present circumstance.


**–A cuts only deal would certainly satisfy militant punditist demands for “sacrifice.” Cuts are a form of sacrifice, after all–and when they come in the form of “means testing” they are a sacrifice borne by the more fortunate. … Soaks the affluent. Protects the non-affluent. Shrinks government now to make room for expansion later. Sets the table for future tax increases. For a liberal, what’s not to like?