With just 1 in 5 Americans having a favorable opinion of Congress, selling the details of any debt deal struck with an upside down President will be hard work for Republican and Democrat leaders alike. The American people understand our nation is on an unsustainable path, but they are not willing to accept a gimmick-riddled deal cloaked in bipartisan rhetoric and feel-good promises.
President Obama must have an eye on 2012 as he tries to craft a major deal on the debt ceiling, because just a few months ago his administration was vehemently opposed to any sort of deal on the debt ceiling. Any deal is subject to gimmicks, but the President’s $4 trillion framework has ample room for gimmicks when it comes to both spending cuts and so-called revenue raisers.
How can you spot a spending cut gimmick? Let’s use an example. Say the “constructive,” secret negotiations yield $2 trillion in spending reductions. That sounds nice, but before jumping for joy, you have to look at the baseline the negotiators picked.
In other words, what did the negotiators believe the current trajectory of spending would be ABSENT their constructive negotiations? If they are basing the savings off an artificially high baseline, something like President Obama’s budget, the $2 trillion number would be irrelevant, because the President’s spending request was never going to make it through a Republican House.
Although this year’s continuing resolution left many Americans wanting more, it did mark a turning point. There is now the expectation that continuous year-over-year spending increases are outdated. It would be completely fraudulent to tell the American people you’re going to cut spending from money you were never planning to spend in the first place. When it comes to discretionary spending, Americans want to see Congress cut real spending, not future mythical spending.
Another potential gimmick is how negotiators define a tax.
In the run up to a “constructive,” secretive meeting with the White House last week, Congressional Republicans put revenues back on the table. No, they were not necessarily advocating tax increases, but rather a variety of other revenue raisers including the selling of government assets and potential increase in user fees.