People keep quoting this line from Charles Krauthammer:
While getting Republicans to boost his own reelection chances, he [Obama] gets them to make a mockery of their newfound, second-chance, post-Bush, Tea-Party, this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.
This is a good example of the confusion that results from believing that a) the public is deeply worried about government debt and b) that the GOP ever intended to follow through on its election-year rhetoric by cultivating “this-time-we’re-serious persona of debt-averse fiscal responsibility.” If the former were true, it would be foolish for Republicans to follow up their midterm success by adding hundreds of billions in new debt. Caldwell made a similar mistake when he asserted that “the long-term deficit is now a great, galvanising issue in the electorate.” If that were true, Republicans would be mad to indulge in deficit expansion just weeks after a major electoral victory, but their leaders understand that it is not a great or galvanizing issue. The public’s reaction to the deal seems to confirm this.
Republican leaders are no more serious this time about fiscal responsibility than they were before 2007. Why would they be? These are the same leaders who presided over Bush-era irresponsibility. These are the same leaders who told the public very clearly before the election that they had no intention of addressing long-term fiscal imbalances. We are seeing “the Pledge” in action, or as much of it as the minority party can manage in a lame-duck session.
Having pointed out previously that the tax deal only makes sense in connection with a plan for reining in debt, Ross observes that the tax deal creates incentives for both the administration and the GOP “to postpone any deficit compromise until after 2012.” Looking at public opinion, they have strong incentives to keep postponing any such compromise for even longer. According to another Pew survey from late last week, the public claims to see deficits as a “major problem” that must be addressed now (70%), and approximately two-thirds of Americans understand that tax increases and spending cuts are needed, but they are resistant to deficit reduction in almost all its specific forms:
Most of the major deficit reduction proposals under discussion meet with public disapproval. Particularly unpopular are provisions that would tax the health insurance people receive from their employers (72% disapprove), raise the national gasoline tax (74% disapprove), and reduce federal funding to states for things like education and roads (71% disapprove). Of 12 ideas tested, just two meet with majority approval: increasing the amount of earned income that is subject to Social Security withholding (64% approve) and freezing the salaries of government workers (59% approve); the latter proposal is supported by President Obama and many Republicans.
The Simpson-Bowles commission proposal meets with 48% disapproval and just 30% approval. Notably, of those who have heard about the proposal, disapproval is highest among Republicans, where it runs 58-16% against. Going through the list of the 12 ideas, we see that there is relatively less Republican support for six of them, majority support among Republicans for only two (raising the Social Security contribution cap, and the federal pay freeze), and relatively greater Republican support for two (raising the retirement age and reducing funding to states for roads and education). Why did anyone expect Republican leaders to become dedicated to fiscal responsibility when their voters aren’t and presumably don’t want them to be?
P.S. In fairness to Tea Partiers, the survey lists their responses as well, and it appears that a substantial percentage of those identifying with the Tea Party take getting debt under control a bit more seriously:
Tea Party supporters are more likely to favor addressing the deficit mostly by cutting major programs (39%) than are Americans generally (16%). Yet Tea Party supporters do not flatly reject tax increases as part of the deficit solution; roughly half (51%) believe that the best way to address the deficit is through a combination of major program cuts and tax increases.
However, the more specific the questions, the more muddled the Tea Partier response becomes. Of the 12 ideas tested in the survey, a majority of Tea Partiers supported just two (the federal pay freeze, and reducing Social Security for high income seniors). They were significantly more likely to support three others, but significantly less likely to support raising the contribution cap, taxing employer-provided health insurance, eliminating the home mortgage interest deduction, or making any cuts to military spending and/or the size of the military. While 51% of Tea Partiers claim to support deficit reduction through tax increases and spending cuts, there are not nearly that many that will back any specific efforts to raise new revenues.