Since this is likely to come up again, it’s worth clarifying an issue that is likely to come up as the
“fiscal cliff” “gentle fiscal incline” approaches. As stated in the most extreme form by Jessie Levine in comments, some people seem opposed to any deal using the leverage of the expiring Bush tax cuts to get something, even if we assume the final deal is favorable to liberals. This doesn’t make sense, of course. But some of this logic seems to come from confusion stemming from the use of the term “grand bargain.” This conflates things that should be kept distinct:
- A “grand bargain,” — a long-term deficit reduction deal — is almost certainly a horrible idea for two reasons. First, while in theory a deficit deal could be struck at any level of expenditures and taxation, in practice such deals tend to be proposed by Pain Caucus types who just want to slash social spending in order to preserve or extend upper-class tax cuts. Simpson/Bowles was heavily tilted to conservative interests, even though it was made nominally progressive by proposals like an elimination of the mortgage interest deduction that have no chance of enactment. And more importantly, even in the extremely unlikely event that you could get a “Grand Bargain” on favorable terms the deals are entirely useless because they’re completely unenforceable. The Clinton surpluses were just used to fund massive tax cuts (with Alan Greenspan solemnly informing the public that we were in danger of paying down the the debt too quickly.) Since the Republican Party is if anything less interested in deficit reduction now, you’d have to be a world-class rube to fall for that again.
- The fact that a “grand bargain” is a terrible idea doesn’t mean that any legislative bargain is a bad idea. One advantage of my not being a Republican is that I can feel free to evaluate a legislative deal based on its contents, and it’s silly to criticize a deal without knowing what the deal is. I’ll grant that “getting a legislative deal in which you gain more than you lose” isn’t a “battle cry of freedom,” but that’s also a pretty dumb standard to evaluate the outcomes of ordinary politics. What, if Obama was a real liberal he’d be sending federal troops to burn down the suburbs of the capital of every state that voted for Romney?
- There’s no reason to assume in advance that any possible deal will be bad. You may not have noticed, but Republicans really like tax cuts. In 2010, they had the choice between severely damaging Obama’s re-election chances and extending the Bush tax cuts, and they chose the tax cuts. Maybe this can be leveraged into something, maybe it can’t, but there’s no reason not to try. Unlike with, say, the PPACA negotiations, this is a negotiation liberals can walk away from just as easily; four years from the next election, letting the Bush tax cuts expire in their entirety is fine.