David, thanks for the thoughtful remarks. I, too, believe that we have an obligation to ground our answers to questions, even hypothetical questions, in the real world. And you are correct: In the real world, it is hard for Republicans to tell the truth about deficit reduction — the truth being that Barack Obama is president, Harry Reid runs the Senate, the American people did not wake up unanimously libertarian on Tuesday morning, and, therefore, a cuts-only deficit-reduction deal is something that has a future only in Republican politicians’ speeches.
So, what do we do about that fact? Ignore it for political convenience? Wish it would go away? There’s political reality, and then there’s reality reality. In reality reality, the federal government and at least half the states are headed toward insolvency. Should we let that happen?
If we want to do something about that other than sit on our hands between now and 2013, that means doing a deal with the Democrats. Newt Gingrich is right: John Boehner should call the House back into session today, demand that the subcommittees identify substantial spending cuts, roll them up into a fiscal-consolidation bill (or lots of smaller bills), and dare the Democrats to ignore it. If one of the three leading GOP presidential contenders got behind such a plan, he’d be doing himself and the nation a service. If the price of getting such a bill signed into law is a tax increase, then Republicans should get behind something like the Simpson-Bowles plan, which is a net tax increase but also includes rate reductions and critical reforms to the tax code. You can give the Democrats a tax increase without giving them a class-warfare victory.
Why not wait until 2013? For one thing, Republicans might not win in 2012. For another, there is no reason to believe that even under unified Republican government we would get the debt deal we really want: Look what the Republicans did last time around.
As for those who say that it is impossible to impose a deal under which spending cuts outweigh by many multiples tax increases, the fact is that Canada did it — under a Liberal government, no less — and if there’s no Republican leadership that can be as effective against the deficit as Jean Chrétien was, then the Republican party isn’t worth bothering with.
Finally, I’ll defend my use of the phrase “the crazies.” Our country is in a perilous position and desperately needs to rationalize its finances — now, not in a year and a half. To allow an ideologically maximalist position grounded in emotion rather than in economic necessity to preempt doing so is dangerous. I want federal spending cut to less than 5 percent of GDP and the money supply privatized. Not going to happen. Choosing a second-best outcome often is preferable to holding out for a first-best outcome.