False Balance in the Fiscal Cliff Deal: Real Tax Hikes, Fake Spending Cuts


Neither Democrats nor Republicans are providing much in the way of details about the fiscal cliff negotiations, at least not on the record. But Politico reports a few details about what kind of deal we might be able to expect: Taxes will rise by $1.2 trillion or a little less. At the same time, "there will be at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and 'war savings.'" Presumably the idea will be for the spending cuts and tax hikes to appear to balance each other out. But it's only an appearance.

That's because claiming that so-called "war savings" are a spending cut is Washington's favorite budget gimmick. Doing so would allow legislators to take credit for savings that are already going to happen. Counting war savings would mean that almost no real cuts are necessary: The Congressional Budget Office scored it earlier this year as "saving" about $850 billion. That's money that was never going to be spent, but gets counted as a "cut" anyway. 

Finally, Politico reports that some sort of entitlement cuts may be part of the deal as well. What kind? Who knows? Republicans won't say what they want. And Democrats won't make an offer of their own. Nor are they likely to show up any time soon. The report also suggests that the cuts could end up totaling about $400 billion, or perhaps more, at least eventually. "Democrats want most Medicare and other entitlement savings to kick in between 10 and 20 years from now," the story says. Which, given the congressional history of delay and avoidance on long-planned Medicare cuts, may as well be never. 

So if Politico's report is right, that's where things stand: Real tax hikes, fake spending cuts, and a half-hearted gesture toward Medicare cuts a decade from now. If that's the deal, it's not much of one.