Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deficient Reduction; politics versus policy

I've recently been writing on the ways that undue attention is paid to the politics of an issue, as opposed to actual policy outcomes. My first two examples came from the conservative end of the spectrum; namely Newt Gingrich and Tea Partiers cum environmental activists. Today I wanted to continue the theme, but with a different example.

First, a primer: out of this summer's debt ceiling debate/hostage crisis, a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction was created as a compromise. The basic goal of the committee was to produce a plan the reduced the federal budget deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars over a ten-year period. If the committee failed to produce a bipartisan plan that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (a process that takes about 48 hours) before Thanksgiving, then automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion would go into effect. This is refereed to as “the trigger,” although technically it is a process called “sequestration.” At any rate, the automatic cuts where designed to do two things. First, the trigger itself is combination of defense and domestic spending cuts. This was supposed to give the Democrats and Republicans on the committee equal incentive to agree on a compromise. Second, in the event the committee suffered political deadlock, the deficit would still be reduced; albeit in a way that is somewhat draconian, yet also with political coverage for both parties.

So, a spoiler-alert for those who have more important things to do than follow politics all day: The JSC failed to produce a bi-partisan plan. Quite a bit a the political horse-race news coverage is devoted to the implications of it's failure.

With this, I wanted to highlight Matthew Yglesias' very smart piece on how the JSC's failure is a victory for those who prioritize deficient reduction, and why the emphasis on “bi-partisanship” over actual policy outcomes is absurd. Specifically, Yglesias writes that news “is being termed a “failure,” and by the standards of D.C.’s fetishization of bipartisanship, it is one. But in terms of deficit reduction, failure is actually better than success.” (emphasis mine – JMG)

This is a re-occurrence of the basic theme I have been trying to emphasize: a large and disproportionate segment of politics and political media is concerned with the political optics of an issue or event that it is with the actual outcomes of it. Read Yglesias' piece and you'll understand, from a pure deficit-hawk point of view, the failure of the JSC is the best possible outcome. Whether the outcome is coded as “partisan” or “bi-partisan” shouldn't matter.

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