The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in a press release last week that this letter to the president from 64 U.S. senators calling for comprehensive deficit reduction is significant. I say that the letter is so meaningless that it makes you wonder whether the committee is desperately searching for any tiny morsel that indicates it’s still relevant.
First, some disclosure. Over the years I have worked with and (in a consulting capacity) for the committee. I know and think very highly of CRFB’s president, Maya MacGuineas. I have attended many CRFB-sponsored events over the years as their guest. And I know and hold in great esteem many of the people who have been and still are on CRFB’s board.
CRFB’s press release says that it is “thrilled” by the letter. But the letter says nothing more than that the 64 senators urge the president “to engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package” and that they “hope that the discussion will include discretionary spending cuts, entitlement changes and tax reform.”
Does that really qualify as thrilling? Does a letter that is so vanilla that it could have been written at any time over the past 40 years really indicate any movement on the current budget debate? As John Harwood says today in The Caucus Blog in the New York Times about this, “the path from hortatory letter to long-term deal is steep.”
In fact, the letter is more a reflection of the current politics of the budget and current polling than it is a shift in today’s deficit reduction landscape. As Bruce and I have posted repeatedly and this column in The Hill by pollster extraordinaire Mark Mellman once again confirms, a broad majority of Americans want the deficit reduced; they just aren’t in favor of any of the things that would actually reduce it.
That’s all the letter from the 64 senators actually says. We’re in favor of reducing the deficit but either we’re not going to tell you the specific ways it should be done or can’t agree enough among ourselves to list how we think it should happen.
So why exactly is anyone “thrilled” by this?