Americans who want less government are the big losers in the debt deal. Republicans’ fearful leaders didn’t merely acquiesce to a phony deal. They also helped enshrine Obama-level spending and deficits, put off meaningful entitlement reform and gave the biggest spender ever to enter the Oval Office a solid platform for reelection.
The deal relies on some of the oldest tricks in the Washington.
First, the cuts in the supposedly $2.4 trillion deal are heavily back-ended over a 10-year period. Previous cuts of this style were enacted in law during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. When the out years finally arrived, the promised cuts were easily circumvented and ignored.
The only reductions that matter in Washington are ones that reform or eliminate programs, or which are written into the next year’s annual budget. But this deal eliminates no program and the cuts that are envisioned for Fiscal Year 2012, which begins October 1st, appear tiny when compared with the overall budget, which is nearing $4 trillion dollars.
Second, the cuts, such as they are, are reductions to projected future spending increases. This is contrary to how every family and reputable business does budgeting. For them, a cut means spending less in the future than you have in the past. For Washington, a cut is when you spend slightly less than your wildest spending dreams for the future.
Let me put it another way: It would be as if you were deeply indebted and decided to buy a Ferrari for $100,000, but then reconsidered and decided to buy a Ford for $25,000. In Washington, they would say you “saved” $75,000 and everyone would pat each other on the back. Normal people would say you still spent $25,000 you didn’t have and put yourself further in the hole. The debt deal puts America further in the hole.
Third, the deal’s savings are said to be mandatory based on certain “triggers.” We’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. In 1985, when Americans began to be concerned with deficits a fraction of today’s size, Congress passed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act. It was supposed to bring about automatic cuts to spending within five years if Congress didn’t make cuts on its own. When it came time for the cuts to be triggered, a simple legislative sleight of hand in 1990 eviscerated the law.
Fourth, the deal doesn’t merely delay real reform—it makes it harder. Republican leaders bargained away a hurdle requirement that the Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) be passed out of the Congress and sent to the states for ratification. This had been the one real deficit reform, which was forced on the leadership by conservatives in the House.