Government Spending

The Debt-Ceiling Debate is Dead! Long Live the Debt! Or, Will ObamaCare Cover What Krugman's Smoking?

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So it's looking like what might be called the Great Debt-Ceiling Debate of 2011 is over. For those of us who followed this sort of charade for a living—and most sentient beings—this is a good thing.

Because now we can focus on the actual issue at hand: The actual national debt, or the amount the federal government owes to all its creditors. The LA Times sketches the sketchy details:

The proposed deal would raise the debt ceiling to carry the government into 2013, while providing for at least a dollar-per-dollar exchange of spending cuts. The spending cuts would come in two stages. An initial round would impose more than $900 billion in domestic cuts across the federal government over the next 10 years. But the vast majority of those cuts would fall in future years.

A new congressional committee will also be formed with equal membership from both parties, which would recommend by late November $1.5 trillion in further cuts. Unless those recommendations are adopted, $1.2 trillion in additional cuts would automatically be triggered, starting at the beginning of 2013.

The reports I've seen talk about a whopping $22 billion to $65 billion out of fiscal 2012 spending. Next year's budget has yet to be written, of course, but will surely be no less than the $3.7 trillion or so that we're spending this year. And let's be clear about things: We're getting a definite increase in $900 billion in new debt for the phantom menace of cuts sometime over the next decade. And as Matt Welch and I pointed out in yesterday's NY Post, in this context, cuts means minor reductions in planned increases.

Which is enough to get Paul Krugman to hyperventilate thusly:

There will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction — and if these recommendations aren't accepted, there will be more spending cuts….how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation's economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can't.

Me? I'm just hoping whatever Krugman is smoking is covered under Obamacare. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) points out in an excellent retort to the deal in the works, this "compromise" adds at least $7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade (because it claims to cut up to $2.5 trillion from a baseline that assumes $10 billion trillion in added debt; whoopee).

In fact, the real reason to be bothered by the whimper with which the debt-ceiling squabble seems to be ending is this: It doesn't address the real issue, which is the debt load of the country. There are many reasons not to take bond-rating agencies such Standard & Poor's seriously as judgers of risk (back in September 2008 at Reason.com, economists David Levy and Sandra Peart did the math on that) but their input deserves to be dealt with if only because they influence what the feds will pay for new debt. And S&P has been very clear that it wants to see a credible $4 trillion debt reduction plan by October.

Which is a month before the November deadline by which Congress will have come up with a maximum of a bit more than $2 trillion in cuts. Do the math on that. And then call your elected officials and make sure that whatever Krugman is smoking is not only covered by Obamacare but gets priority funding when the U.S. is no longer able to borrow endlessly to cover all its outlays.

Luckily, as Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy has pointed out, there is a proven way to slash deficits . As the work of Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna suggests, the best way to do it is to cut both spending and revenue

As an added bonus, "Their findings suggest that tax cuts are more expansionary than spending increases in the cases of a fiscal stimulus."

Read more here.