Jonathan Cohn

Obama's Balancing Act, Cont'd

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Two very smart people, one very important picture: Jared Bernstein and Ezra Klein have posted different versions of the same graph, demonstrating the balance of tax increases and spending cuts in past deficit reduction deals. The graphs, based on calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorites, also include President Obama's proposed plan.

The picture is pretty revealing, I think:

By any reasonable standard, Obama's plan reflects conservative preferences for spending cuts far more than any of the previous measures. The starkest contrast, in fact, is to the record of Ronald Reagan. "In Reagan’s case," Klein notes, "his massive tax cuts were followed by deficit-reduction deals that actually relied on tax increases. Today, tea party conservatives would be begging Sen. Jim DeMint to primary the Gipper."

To be fair, broad descriptions of "spending cuts" and "new revenue" can mask important distinctions and nuances. Some spending cuts are entirely worthwhile, for their own sake. Some revenue increases would be genuinely harmful. And so on. But the ratio of one to the other remains a pretty good proxy for the quality of a deal, for reasons Bernstein explains well:

This matters not for aesthetic reasons; it matters because if the path to a sustainable budget is lined largely with spending cuts, the damage we’ll do to the ability of government to protect the vulnerable, provide health and income security to retirees, and invest in the future will be too deep. The deal will have come at too steep a price.

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