Why Democrats and Republicans Are Talking Past Each Other on the Deficit

Jonathan Bernstein:

I’ve been talking for a while now about what I see as a GOP “War on Budgeting,” which basically means that (many) Republicans reject the entire notion that spending and revenues have anything to do with each other. When those Republicans use the term “deficit,” they’re not talking about federal government revenues minus federal government spending; they’re talking, usually, about spending they don’t like.

If you use this explanation as a secret decoder ring, it makes lots of otherwise goofy statements far more understandable. Two examples already today.

First, Suzy Khimm tweets:

Not sure why so many in Washington believe “short-term stimulus, long-term deficit reduction” is THE BIGGEST OXYMORON IN THE WORLD.This confuses Khimm because she’s thinking in terms of regular deficit reduction, in which the goal is to minimize long-term federal revenues minus federal spending. But if the goal is actually to reduce any spending you don’t want, then spending lots of money on stimulus is, by definition, bad for the deficit, full stop, end of story, doesn’t matter what happens down the road. No, really, that’s it. What matters is spending money you shouldn’t spend.

There’s no “how to pay for it” in this way of thinking (which is why House Republicans get rid of PAYGO rules every time they take the majority). There’s no long-term. It’s just about spending money that you shouldn’t, in their view, spend. That’s a deficit violation. You can’t make that up in the future, because you can’t unspend what’s already spent.

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