Four Great Reasons for Congress to Stop Focusing on Deficit Reduction

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 28 2014 11:10 AM

Four Great Reasons for Congress to Stop Focusing on Deficit Reduction

144528948-pete-peterson-chairman-of-the-peter-g-peterson
Guys? Guys? What about the budget deficit? Guys?

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

A slightly bizarre Carrie Budoff Brown–Jake Sherman piece in Politico complains at length about the reduced political attention to deficit reduction, but since it's a news piece rather than an opinion one, it doesn't bother to clearly state why they think this is bad. I think it's good! Here are four great reasons for reduced political attention to deficit reduction:

1. The deficit is falling fast! They manage to concede this in the seventh graf of the piece but insist that the positive trajectory will last for "only a few years" before returning. It would be crazy to argue that Congress should never again worry about long-term budget issues, but if the situation has improved over the past couple of years and is set to improve for a few more years to come, surely that counts as a reason to consider putting some other items on the agenda.

2. The parties are in a hopeless state of disagreement on long-term budgeting! This isn't exactly breaking news, but I'm not sure there's much more to be said about the "cut domestic spending exclusively while cutting taxes and raises military spending" approach to long-term budgeting versus the "cut broadly and also raise taxes" approach. The leadership on both sides have explored this pretty thoroughly, there's no common ground, and there's no reason to think that spending more time arguing about it will bring us closer to resolution. Over the next "few years" we will have two congressional elections and a presidential election and perhaps things will look different then.

Advertisement

3. Nonbudget measures can improve the budget deficit! Any number of sensible immigration reform measures would, by increasing the rate of economic growth, reduce the budget deficit. For that matter so would sensible reforms to the patent system. So would a U.S.-EU free trade zone. So would some kind of crazy Yglesian scheme to encourage high-cost metropolitan areas to upzone. So would monetary stimulus. So would scope-of-practice reform. The list of subjects on which it is more plausible to envision bipartisan agreement than long-range budgeting is quite extensive. And constructive action on any of those fronts would in fact reduce the deficit and buy more time.

4. The deeper trends are good! Older workers' labor-force participation rate has been rising despite a crummy labor market. Health care spending aggregates have risen less than anticipated. It would be silly to simply presume that these trends will continue in 2014, 2015, and 2016, but it's also plausible that they will. It would be a shame to slash Social Security benefits as a way of pre-emptively heading off a projected spike in Medicare costs only to discover that Medicare costs actually don't spike. Obviously health care wonks shouldn't just turn their brains off for the next three years, but it's perfectly reasonable for members of Congress and their staff to say "let's wait and see."

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.