Exchequer

Real Deficit Reduction vs. Theoretical Deficit Reduction

A reader asks: “So an Obama commission proposes a $1 trillion-plus tax hike, and you, a managing editor at the flagship conservative publication, endorse it? Exactly how or why is this a conservative position?”

Answer: A conservative’s first duty is to deal with reality — not with the theoretical world we wish existed, not with ideology, and not with wishful thinking. We are running a deficit of 40 percent, and it is implausible to think that a government with a Republican House, a Democratic Senate, and Obama in the White House is going to balance the budget by cutting 40 percent of spending.

I think it is equally implausible that a government with a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and Ron Paul/Sarah Palin/Mitch Daniels/Rush Limbaugh/The Ghost of Ronald Reagan in the White House is going to balance the budget with spending cuts alone. Why should I rely on the performance of theoretical Republicans when I have the evidence of actual Republican Congresses and actual Republican administrations to inform me that radical spending cuts are unlikely under a unified Republican government?

The burden of taxation is not equal to what the government collects; it is equal to what the government spends. Deficit spending just greases the skids for ever-more-incontinent fiscal shenanigans — I’d rather the taxpayers bear the pain of government spending as the money is spent than evade it, kicking the taxes down the road to the next generation. We can either pay the taxes today or pay them in the future — with interest, trillions of dollars in interest. The Bowles-Simpson proposal is far from perfect, but it is three-and-a-half times better than anything I expected from a panel with any political proximity to Barack Obama. It’s a good start, and it’s politically viable. If the Republicans are smart, they’ll run with it and remind voters every five minutes that this is the proposal of the Obama deficit commission’s co-chairmen.

If I see a better plan with a real chance of being enacted, it will have my support. But given a choice between an ideologically pure program that never is enacted and a problematic one that gets the job done, albeit imperfectly, I’ll take real deficit reduction over theoretical deficit reduction every time.

Nancy Pelosi hates it. That’s a useful piece of evidence, too.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.

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