On a business trip to lovely Eire without my laptop cable, I was spared further reading about inevitable Democratic attempts to make peace with the Simpson/Bowles abomination. But with a charger secured I decided to take a look. I’ll largely leave Jon Chait’s self-refuting defense for when I get back, but the short version is that since (as Chait concedes) Republicans don’t actually care about the deficit any deficit reduction “deal” one could make with them is worthless on its face. Absolutely nothing in the package could prevent the same kind of bait-and-switch that occurred after the Greenspan Commission’s payroll tax hikes or the 1993 Clinton budget, which where used by Republicans as a pretext for more upper-class tax cuts and spending hikes. Given this, any Democrat who supports a plan overwhelmingly tilted towards conservative priorities (and, indeed, constitutes a very conservative set of policy proposals rather than an actual deficit-reduction proposal) would be one of the biggest suckers in history.
Ygelsias, at least, doesn’t claim that liberals should support a compromise between conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans, but this argument nonetheless concedes far too much:
That’s not to say that pursuing a conservative-moderate deal was a bad idea. Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin and moderates are a much bigger force in the Democratic coalition than in the Republican one. So if you want a deal, appointing an orthodox conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat from North Carolina makes a lot of sense.
The problem in context — as Matt recognized as recently as two weeks ago — is that ideological self-identifications are largely devoid of specific policy content. Americans might by significantly more likely to call themselves conservatives than liberals, but this is neither here not there in terms of whether they support spending being reduced to 21% of GDP* or substantial reductions to the top marginal tax rate or substantial (if carefully unspecified) Medicare cuts. And, in fact, the evidence is quite overwhelming that even self-identified conservatives (let alone the population as a whole) don’t support actual fiscal conservative policy proposals of the type represented by Simpson/Bowles. So this was in fact a terrible idea that produced a set of proposals that should be considered completely indefensible — even as a starting point — for anyone close to the left of the American political spectrum.
*It might be objected that the Catfooders only want revenues capped at 21% of GDP. True, but if we’re not going to reduce spending to something close to this level, then what the hell are we discussing here? Certainly not a significant deficit reduction deal.