While it is rare in politics today, taking responsibility is more important than ever. In the media age of cable news and social media, the propagation of fairy tales become semi-permanent wedges between the parties and their followers. People remember the misinformation campaigns. This contributes to stubborn, entrenched positions. Both parties accepting responsibility for the fiscal crisis is a necessary foundation for setting the tone of the next negotiations on a grand bargain.
The story of the fiscal crisis does begin with the Republicans. President Bush and the Republican Congresses cut taxes while deficit spending on the wars and other programs. When the economy slowed the deficits grew even wider. There is no need to re-live the past in detail. Contemporary Republicans and Democrats have only made the situation worse with their spending and tax policies.
The current Republican-led House has overseen two fiscal years with trillion dollar deficits. The controversial budget put forth by Vice Presidential candidate Ryan does not create budget surpluses until 2040. The Republican House agreed earlier this month to exceed the Ryan spending level for the first months of the new fiscal year. In short, the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility has not been matched by action.
The record of the Democrats is no better. The Democratic clamor for increasing taxes on the wealthy was relatively mute in the last two years of the Bush Administration when Democrats led the House. Tax reform was not prominent when Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House in 2009 and 2010. To the contrary, during the lame duck session of 2010, Democrats extended all of the Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthy.
President Obama deserves credit for nearly brokering a deal in the summer of 2011 that included a Democrat concession on entitlements for a Republican agreement on revenue increases. The White House also convened the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, referred to as Bowles-Simpson after the Committee Chairmen. The Bowles-Simpson plan balanced the budget quickly through dramatic spending cuts, entitlement reform, and major tax increases by closing loopholes.
The White House and Congress balked at Bowles-Simpson the day it was released. It was quickly rejected by both parties in Congress. This past spring, only 28 members of the House voted to support the plan. The White House, for its part, has been slow to include the report’s recommendation in its own budget requests. The presidential candidates and campaigns across the country have avoided providing any specific details on a Bowles-Simpson-like plan, particularly in tax policy, recognizing it is better election year politics to attack the other party.
There is a glimmer of hope for action on a grand bargain after the election but first the conditions need to be put in place for earnest negotiations. The sooner both parties move past the fairy tales and accept responsibility for their respective roles in the making of the crisis, the sooner they can come to the table ready to compromise to provide the economy much-needed certainty in taxes and spending.
Windle was an Independent candidate for Congress during the 2012 election cycle and has worked at the White House budget office (2006-2008) and on the House Committee on Appropriations (2009-10). He now lives in Snoqualmie Pass, Washington State.