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Attention Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: This Letter is Anything But Thrilling

21 Mar 2011
Posted by Stan Collender

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in a press release last week that this letter to the president from 64 U.S. senators calling for comprehensive deficit reduction is significant. I say that the letter is so meaningless that it makes you wonder whether the committee is desperately searching for any tiny morsel that indicates it's still relevant.

First, some disclosure.  Over the years I have worked with and (in a consulting capacity) for the committee.  I know and think very highly of CRFB's president, Maya MacGuineas.  I have attended many CRFB-sponsored events over the years as their guest.  And I know and hold in great esteem many of the people who have been and still are on CRFB's board.

CRFB's press release says that it is "thrilled" by the letter.  But the letter says nothing more than that the 64 senators urge the president "to engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package" and that they "hope that the discussion will include discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform."

Does that really qualify as thrilling?  Does a letter that is so vanilla that it could have been written at any time over the past 40 years really indicate any movement on the current budget debate?  As John Harwood says today in The Caucus Blog in the New York Times about this, "the path from hortatory letter to long-term deal is steep."

In fact, the letter is more a reflection of the current politics of the budget and current polling than it is a shift in today's deficit reduction landscape.  As Bruce and I have posted repeatedly and this column in The Hill by pollster extraordinaire Mark Mellman once again confirms, a broad majority of Americans want the deficit reduced; they just aren't in favor of any of the things that would actually reduce it.

That's all the letter from the 64 senators actually says.  We're in favor of reducing the deficit but either we're not going to tell you the specific ways it should be done or can't agree enough among ourselves to list how we think it should happen. 

So why exactly is anyone "thrilled" by this?

a broad majority of Americans

a broad majority of Americans want the deficit reduced; they just aren't in favor of any of the things that would actually reduce it.

Not exactly. Broad majorities are in favor of raising taxes on high income earners. This would lower the deficit.

Broad majorities are against cutting spending on just about any meaningful federal program.

Perhaps this is because broad majorities care about jobs and the economy, while politicians and commentators have lost interest. If you're going to reduce the deficit, raising taxes on high income earners would have the smallest negative effect on the economy, due to low marginal propensity to consume. Other alternatives would have a worse effect on jobs and the economy. The public is less confused than they are given credit for.

It would be thrilling if 64

It would be thrilling if 64 senators voted for a measure to do what they say President Barack Obama should do. Except President Obama can't pass the legislation -- only senators and representatives can do that. These 64 senators should stop writing letters and start doing their job: legislating.

The CRFB ...

is just another Pete Peterson attempt to fleece poor old people .. and anyone else who isn't rich .. why supposedly liberals like Maya MacGuineas would put their name to this shows just how clueless and out of touch they are.

Deficit is not just spending cuts

First of all, right now we need to spend to createjobs, a functional economy and revised infrastructure. Then we need to raise taxes and cut military spending and corporate tax breaks. All these are, indeed, supported by a large majority of Americans (WSJ/NBC poll--

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