Gregg Easterbrook

The super committee fails so let’s go on a spending spree

Nov 23, 2011 19:05 UTC

The super committee has predictably failed – maybe there was green kryptonite hidden in its meeting room. Months of nearly round-the-clock debate about reigning in the national debt, conducted at the highest levels of government, come to a close with nothing done about the problem. This is the essence of contemporary Washington: lots of empty talk, interest groups appeased, all difficult decisions indefinitely tabled and the national interest ignored.

What comes next? Most likely, Congress will make the national debt even worse.

Republicans want to extend the George W. Bush top-rate tax cuts. Democrats want to extend the Barack Obama payroll tax cut, and enact yet another bonus extension of unemployment benefits. One or all may happen by Christmas as both parties switch to full-blown pandering mode.

If the costs in the December 2010 stimulus bill are any guide, a package of extended tax cuts for the well-off, payroll tax cuts for everyone and bonus payments to the unemployed will add around $700 billion to the national debt.

Bear in mind, last December’s stimulus bill (the third, following a 2008 stimulus under Bush and a 2009 stimulus under Obama) entailed $860 billion in borrowing. If another $700 billion or so is borrowed for lead items on the parties’ wish lists, during the very 12 months that Washington has refused to take action to reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion over many years, an extra $1.5 trillion will be added to the debt in the here and now.

If tax-cut and unemployment-benefit extensions pass, Congress will already have spent every penny of the $1.2 trillion the deficit commission was supposed to save. Though no money has actually been saved yet – the “mandatory” spending reductions triggered by super committee inaction don’t start until 2013, which leaves plenty of time for Congress to cancel them.

The shock awaiting if the ‘super committee’ fails

Nov 17, 2011 17:19 UTC

Action by the debt-reduction ‘super committee’ is due in less than a week. You will not be surprised to learn the super committee may only announce grandiose goals, while “deferring” specifics to some unspecified future point.

If, after months of hype, the super committee turns out to be a Potemkin committee, taking no action against the tide of government red ink, here is what will happen: Absolutely nothing.

That’s why falling dangerously arrears on national fiscal policy is so seductive – in the short term, nothing happens. Greece, Italy, Portugal – their governments made irresponsible decision after irresponsible decision, and nothing happened. So the irresponsible decisions continued.

Romney touches third rail – and lives

Nov 9, 2011 21:37 UTC

Increasingly, Mitt Romney seems the Republican candidate who has given serious thought to governing – to what specific policy actions he would take if he became president. The other Republican candidates seem mainly concerned with self-promotion and applause lines, while Newt Gingrich’s “Day 1 Project” seems more like a dress rehearsal than a real concept for governing.

If Romney is the serious challenger to President Barack Obama, then his fiscal policy speech a few days ago bears inspection. It was notably better than most campaign speeches, and contained both gold and dross. Here are some highlights:

Gold: “We cannot with moral conscience borrow trillions of dollars that can only be repaid by our children.” Reckless borrowing, with the invoice passed to our children – nobody in power in Washington right now will be asked to repay the national debt – is not just numbers, it is a moral issue. Romney recognizes this.

Rick Perry + Al Gore ≠ global warming logic

Nov 3, 2011 20:06 UTC

When Al Gore was in the White House, global warming was a disaster of the first order. Republican presidential candidates are now saying it is anything from a fraud to trivial.

Both sides claim sound science, and both are wrong. In politics, “sound science” means whatever supports your preconceived positions.

For American voters, climate change is an issue offering lessons in how to reject political nonsense on the extremes, and find the middle. If we can’t find the middle of a generation-long concern like climate change, one where modest steps are sufficient for the moment, how will we ever tackle immediate issues such as jobs, debt and the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers?