You Don't Step Up To The Plate When You Know They're Only Going To Throw Fast Balls At Your Head
The question I keep getting asked in one form or another is "Why hasn't the White House stepped up to the plate and proposed a long-term deficit reduction plan yet?"
My response: Why would you do that when, once you've stepped in to the batter's box, the only thing that's going to happen is that Roger Clemens-like fast balls are going to be thrown at your head.
It's not hard to understand why congressional Republicans want the White House to propose specific deficit reductions before the election. A deficit reduction plan that's too bold on the spending side will be heavily criticized and become a political albatross for whoever proposes it -- just ask House Budget Committee Ranking Republican Paul Ryan (WI). The criticism will come both from those who want more to be done and those who don't like the specific reductions that are included. And thunderbolts will come down from the heavens and fire and brimstone speeches about the impending end of the world will be made across the country if a plan includes even the slightest revenue increases.
No doubt Republicans are frustrated: They would like to have some specifics before the 2010 elections so that they have a series of new issues before voters go to the polls. The White House is refusing to provide that election fodder. The administration clearly has decided that it will be far better if it doesn't come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan now than if it proposes specific changes that will create immediate and substantial political liabilities.
What's less clear is why deficit hawks have allowed themselves to be caught up in this debate. They should know better. Not only is there no budget process requirement that the president propose something at this point in the year, but making the specifics of a long-term deficit reduction plan into an election issue almost certainly will force candidates to promise on pain of death that they will not agree to do any of the things the voters don't like. It's not hard, for example, to see how congressional candidates would promise never to cut the Pentagon or Medicare and how they would vow never to allow the spending for a bridge, tunnel, sewer or some other project important to their state or district ever to be reduced.
On top of everything else, it's not at all clear that there's any economic justification for proposing a plan now. There is no evidence whatsoever that a deficit reduction plan now will make the markets feel more comfortable about the state of federal finances and, therefore, will hasten the recovery. To the contrary, the industries, businesses, regions, and workers that would be affected by the federals pending reductions and revenue changes would far more likely react negatively to the proposals. And the wave of selling in the equity markets would be obvious and immediate.