Evan Soltas wrote about this recently, but I don't think he has it quite right. He has some good point about differences between Democrats and Republicans and I do think that matters. There are good and bad things about Washington and the deficit relative to the rest of the country (and by "Washington" I'm talking about politicians, federal workers, politicos, advocates, and policy analysts - five very different groups of people. I'm the last one and I'm married to the second one and the other three regularly infuriate me).
Some good things about Washington and the budget:
- Most people in Washington understand that you don't need to balance the budget, you just need to keep the debt sustainable. Most economists understand this too. Many Americans don't seem to. Most people in Washington do genuinely want to do this.
- Most people in Washington seem to be able to distinguish between long-term and short-term budget problems. This is also something that you are less likely to see outside of Washingon.
- Fewer people in Washington, but still probably more than in the rest of the country, understand where the debt problems come from: Medicare, not Social Security; war spending, not foreign aid.
Some bad things about Washington and the budget:
- Politicians, politicos, and advocates achieve their goals by muddying up the previous three bullet points when talking to the public. There are a select few advocates specifically concerned with the budget and a politician here and there that break this pattern.
- Politicians, politicos, and advocates who do care about the deficit care even more about how they're going to fix the deficit. This is where Evan was on to something. Democrats want to do it one way and Republicans want to do it another. The end result comes out of a political process and usually makes less sense (from a budget perspective) than either side's individual plan (although sometimes those individual plans don't make sense). Nuances like long vs. short term or macroeconomic conditions usually go completely out the window during the political process. So it's not really an issue of whether Washington cares: they do. It's an issue of what the institutions in Washington do with that.
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