Have the 'deficit hawks' been sidelined?
Whatever seriousness politicians took in trying to address the federal deficit appears to have vanished. This Hill article makes the case that the deficit hawks in Congress have been shunted aside in favor of a "don't rock the boat" strategy that is supposed to bring the GOP victory in November's mid terms.
House Republicans who used to talk about the trillions in spending cuts they would enact are now struggling to come up with even a token fiscal reform to attach to legislation raising Washington's debt limit.
Congress passed a two-year budget including $1.1 trillion of spending this year alone, compared to the $967 billion favored by some conservatives.
Tax reform, to simplify the code, raise revenue and lower some rates, appeared to die last week. On Thursday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) left the Senate for China, while on Friday President Obama signed a farm bill that includes more subsidies for wealthy farmers than he wanted.
Tough talk on cutting the deficit is so rarely heard that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles might as well be in the witness protection program.
The stunning turnaround suggests that deficit hawks have lost their battle to fix Washington's balance sheet.
"It is tough to make the case we are winning the [fiscal] war, maybe a battle here and there," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of the hawks. "Somebody could say with deficits coming down we are doing better, but when you look at the accumulated debt it just keeps going up."
With near-term deficits shrinking - they are forecast to rise in the long term - both parties are talking more about economic fairness than about fiscal prudence; the buzz is about inequality, ObamaCare and immigration.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported this month that the 2014 deficit will fall to $514 billion, more than halving the $1.4 trillion of 2009, but still higher than any deficit before Obama.
The president used his State of the Union address to hail the recent budget agreement that undid some of the sequester, saying it left Washington "freer" to pursue new jobs initiatives. That pleases liberals who say deficit hawks have won too much already.
"They've had their way all the way up to lately," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) wants a backlash against the hawks so Congress "can reverse some of the damage" by raising infrastructure spending.
Professional deficit hawks concede that their outlook has darkened since Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) abandoned talk of a $4 trillion compromise on debt at the end of 2012.
What happened was that the natural forces at work in Washington for decades re-established the status quo and marginalized those who sought to bring federal spending under control.
Cutting the budget went against everything that has gone on in Washington for 50 years. And once the deficit began to fall due to increased economic activity bringing in more revenue, all momentum to bring fiscal sanity to the budget was lost.
There will be no grand bargain on taxes and entitlements - Obama certainly isn't interested on cutting any of his "investments." And the GOP is loathe to initiate combat, preferring to keep the focus on Obamacare rather than long, drawn out budget battles in Congress.
So, for reasons historical and political, cutting the budget - and slowing the growth of government in the process - will have to wait.
Not a satisfactory state of affairs.