David Brooks Wants To Replace the Fiscal Cliff With a New Fiscal Cliff

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 4 2012 10:16 AM

David Brooks Wants To Replace the Fiscal Cliff With a New Fiscal Cliff

David Brooks' column today offers an excellent example of why I've turned against the pursuit of grand bargains. Brooks, like the reasonable conservative that he is, first proposes that Republicans should agree to a small tax-side downpayment on deficit reduction to acknowledge they've lost the election and defuse the immediate austerity bomb.

And then:

That on March 15, 2013, both parties would introduce leader-endorsed tax and entitlement reform bills in Congress that would bring the debt down to 60 percent of G.D.P. by 2024 and 40 percent by 2037, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Those bills would work their way through the normal legislative process, as the Constitution intended. If a Grand Bargain is not reached by Dec. 15, 2013, then there would be automatic defense and entitlement cuts and automatic tax increases.

Here's the problem. The backup deal of "automatic defense and entitlement cuts and automatic tax increases" either has to be better than the status quo or worse than the status quo, from the perspective of congress. If it's better than the status quo, then obviously the whole rest of the apparatus is moot. But the premise here is that it's not possible to work out a good deal by March. The automatic cuts and tax hikes are meant to discipline and punish the congress by being worse than the status quo. Create an enforcement mechanism so dire that members will have no choice but to reach an agreement. 

This is exactly the kind of thinking that brought us the fiscal cliff in the first place. And it reflects the extent to which the grand bargaineers have gone from being pesky-but-harmless to actively dangerous. They're sad that there isn't an immediate debt crisis to force congress to act, so they want to deliberately create artificial crisis scenarios in order to motivate politicians.

It's totally insane. And as I've said before, it's also oddly mistargeted. John Boehner and Barack Obama won't suffer if the country has to implement a harmful series of automatic budget adjustments. Average Americans will suffer. Trying to punish them indirectly by hurting average Americans so much that it begins to damage our elected leaders' political careers is perverse. A much better solution would be for Boehner and Obama to agree that if there's no deal by December 2013, Pete Peterson gets to kick them both in the balls. Heck, throw in the whole congressional leadership from both parties if you want (although this might give Nancy Pelosi and Patty Murray an unfair advantage). Make them choose between their desire to drive a hard bargain and their desire to avoid intense, personal, physical pain. It's a bit of a silly idea, but it makes much more sense than the impulse to punish the voters for the alleged sins of politicians.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?