From what I can tell, the new debt ceiling deal isn’t quite the shit sandwich everyone was expecting. The New York Times has a good flowchart outlining its various twist and turns. Here are the good parts:
- Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid are essentially cordoned off from any of the immediate cuts, though Medicare providers aren’t.
- There really aren’t much in the way of cuts in the short term, so if by some miracle the economy pulls out of its nosedive before the end of the year this deal might actually not make things worse — at least not immediately.
- $350 billion of the near-term cuts come from the war budget, which is usually sacrosanct. This is genuinely surprising, and a real win for the Dems.
- We probably haven’t destroyed our own economy.
Yay? I guess the list could have been even shorter, but this is still pretty depressing. 95% awful still qualifies as awful.
Specifically: this bill is all spending cuts. There aren’t any new revenues of any kind. That can has been kicked down the road, to a small congressional committee that’s going to negotiate a super-deal at the end of the year that will be bipartisan and wise and fair and not at all a reprise of the clownshow we’ve endured for the last couple of months, and they shall meet in a cloud city under a huge rainbow with unicorns flying around them scattering pixie dust.
If they don’t come to some sort of agreement, then a set of pre-ordained cuts go into effect automatically — half discretionary spending, half war spending, carving into both sides’ sacred cows. That, plus the threat of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire entirely (which they should!), will supposedly goad both parties into doing the right thing. Kevin Drum has already enumerated some reasons why it probably won’t.
But really this feels mostly bad to me, for all the obvious reasons: what this economy needs is more revenues, more spending, more infrastructure, and it needs a strong spendthrifty federal government to make all that happen. Obama is telling us that’ll come in December, from the super-duper committee, but, for one thing, that committee is just a distillation of the deadlocked congress as a whole, and there’s no reason to express the GOP will be more reasonable in microcosm; and for another (as Chris Hayes points out) even a committee half-full of democrats won’t produce anything authentically progressive.
So, to summarize: right now our economy is gutshot, curled up on the ground, gasping for breath, and all this agreement manages to do is not put a gun to its head and pull the trigger.
But, worst of all, the GOP now has their very own BFG. Obama can raise the debt ceiling more or less at his discretion til the end of 2012, so theoretically Boehner and his crew of nihilists won’t be able to grab the wheel again and steer the whole country off a cliff for a while. But the fact remains that the GOP now has a new weapon in their arsenal. A really really good one. Paul Krugman makes the argument that all this is just another sign that our system of government has stopped working — or, rather, that it’s being steadily dismantled by bad actors. Under the circumstances, it’s hard to argue with that.