My friend Pete Wehner sees a problem if the eight candidates in last week’s Republican debate were serious when they all said they would refuse to accept a “real spending cuts deal” that offered $10 in cuts for every $1 in increased taxes. “If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances,” Pete writes, “then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.”
I, on the other hand, was annoyed that none of the eight challenged the false premise of the question. There is no such thing as a real spending cuts deal (TINSTAARSCD, a companion to TINSTAAFL). Congress doesn’t keep its spending cuts promises. Didn’t keep its promises in the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982. Didn’t keep them in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act of 1985 (or, more precisely, in its reworked version passed in 1987). Can anyone doubt that the promises of spending cuts made in the recent legislation raising the debt limit will also be hedged and finagled? Experience indicates that lawmakers do not yet know how to craft legislative language that irrevocably binds Congress to its fiscal promises. That’s why all eight candidates could properly refuse to support a 10:1 spending cuts deal, or even a 100:1 spending cuts deal. They are not deals that would be honored.