This is a welcome development: Call them the debt crisis dissenters. The two parties are miles apart on how to cut the deficit and national debt: Republicans want to slash spending even more. Democrats want to raise revenue. And then there are the other Democrats — the ones who reject the entire premise of the current high-stakes fiscal fight. There’s no short-term deficit problem, they say, and there isn’t even an urgent debt crisis that requires immediate attention.
So it’s looking unlikely that Washington will do anything to prevent the sequester, the automatic spending cuts put in place to try to force Washington to find a way forward on spending, from starting to take effect tomorrow. The president and congressional leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss next steps. Hardly anyone likes the sequester—it was designed to be disliked—but no one has the right combination of power and incentives to simply repeal it, either.
Wonkblog has taken to using “austerity crisis” in place of “fiscal cliff.” They’re right: “fiscal” is not very specific, while “cliff” suggests a problem that happens all at once. The reality is a crisis that unfolds over time. And it’s caused not by our fiscal policy in general but by something very specific: a severe austerity package actively imposed by Congress the last couple times it kicked the can down the road. And as we saw then, there are really two questions at hand: when to reduce the deficit and how. The latter is a relatively straightforward partisan standoff. The former has become rhetorically rather bizarre.
In politics, competence sometimes serves as a rhetorical proxy for intent. Politicians like to talk about how terrific they/their ideas are. They aren’t always as gabby about what they/those ideas aim to accomplish. Example: privatization. Some conservatives insist that private enterprise is simply more efficient--more competent--than the government. So why not let the private sector take over certain public functions? But even if we concede that business is categorically more efficient than government, there remains the question of what it's doing so efficiently.