The year was 1981. A new Republican president, Ronald Reagan, faced a ballooning federal deficit and high unemployment. He had campaigned against his Democratic predecessor on a platform of tax cuts and peace through strength. When he sent a budget to Congress that included significant cuts to federal spending, Democrats responded with proposed cuts to defense, in the midst of the Cold War and uncertainty in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Earlier this year, facing economic and national-security challenges perhaps even greater than those of 30 years ago, President Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to tackle the federal deficit. On November 10, commission co-chairmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles made a splash with a set of cost-cutting proposals that would slash federal discretionary spending by $200 billion per year.