The All-Gimmicks Bargain

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 5 2013 4:25 PM

Can Democrats and Republicans Agree to a Petty and Absurd Bargain?

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Visitors stand behind a Dassault Falcon 2000LX business jet on May 14, 2012 at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in Geneva.

Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages

Mitch McConnell says it's time for a "real plan" on the budget deficit from President Obama, not small-bore "politically driven tax hikes" like his plan to close a loophole benefiting corporate jet owners. McConnell correctly points out that this kind of "poll-tested PR gimmick" doesn't do much to reduce the deficit. So then you're awaiting McConnell's plan to really make a dent in the deficit, and he comes up with this:

You’ve probably never heard of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, but you should. Washington has spent millions of your tax dollars so this agency can study things like whether pushing on someone’s head can cause them to lose weight, or whether magnets are effective at relieving pain. Thanks to your hard-earned money, Washington has also been able to fund Chinese studies on pig manure and reality TV shows in India.
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It is true that I, in fact, hadn't heard of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine because its budget is tiny and it's not important. That said, unlike the doomed, fruitless quest for a grand bargain, a bipartisan focus on poll-tested gimmicks seems like it could get somewhere. Are you going to balance the budget by eliminating accelerated depreciation for corporate jet owners and slashing funding for the study of alternative medicine? No, you are not. But at the same time, there's genuinely no good reason to be balancing the budget or worrying about the deficit right now. Wasting real resources on pointless programs and tax subsidies, by contrast, is harmful any day of the week. The GOP could come up with $10 billion in poll-tested gimmicky spending cuts to be matched by $10 billion in poll-tested gimmicky tax subsidies, and we could see if that works.

Instead of a grand bargain, it'd be a petty bargain. America would benefit, and everyone would get to look like a wise statesman.

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

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