From cliff to shining cliff
By Ezra Klein - Jan 16, 2013, Bloomberg
For all the bitterness in Washington these days, it’s easy to miss the broad consensus that undergirds our contentious politics. Republicans swear to protect Medicare and Social Security, and most recognize they can no longer hope to repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Democrats voted to make the George W. Bush tax rates permanent for almost all Americans.
This is not a stable peace. The Democrats have mostly won the debate over what the government should do, while the Republicans have mostly won the debate over how much the government should tax. Sadly, the two sides of that equation don’t come anywhere near to adding up. The war currently raging from cliff to cliff is about bringing taxation and commitments closer to alignment.
Still, it seems probable that the conflict will, eventually, resolve largely in the Democrats’ favor. Paul Ryan’s budget and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign both proved the difficulty Republicans have in advocating fewer government benefits. For all the sound, fury and impassioned promises of huge deficit reduction, in the end both Republican leaders swore that everyone would get their benefits. The savings, we were told, would come from painless mechanisms such as competition or more flexibility for the states. It is difficult to imagine such rhetoric uprooting treasured programs -- all the more so after the Republicans lost the election.
Democrats aren’t much better on taxes, but they don’t need to be. Historically, it is much easier to raise taxes by a half percentage point of gross domestic product than to kick tens of millions off public health insurance.