Monday, November 14, 2011

That's just super!

Back during the debt ceiling debate, one of the key components of the compromise agreement between Democrats and Republicans was that a fabulous new "supercommittee" was to be formed to figure out how to reduce the deficit. No, not the Bowles-Simpson commission, which had been formed to investigate just that question and came to some quite reasonable-sounding conclusions, but a great new one! Made of the same quality politicians that steered the country right to the brink of voluntary default!

So how exactly is that working out? Well, here's the answer, according to The Hill:
It's a move that's been dismissed as a budget gimmick, but it's also one that could make the supercommittee's job a whole lot easier: counting the savings of withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House says $1.1 trillion will be saved by drawing down those troops from Afghanistan and making the U.S. presence in Iraq a civilian, not a military, one.

Given that the supercommittee must track down at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to avoid the triggering of automatic cuts, simply accounting for those savings would nearly get the panel there all by itself.
Yes, that's definitely the kind of tough political decisions that S&P was hankering after when they downgraded the US credit rating! I'm intrigued by the first sentence - is there anyone who wants to seriously take the counter-position that this is not, in fact, simply a budget gimmick? Anyone at all?

But not only that, apparently Democrats on the committee have already proposed that these miraculous 'savings' should now be spent on a second stimulus instead of used for deficit reduction. Yes, that's right! They found new funny money, and can't wait to spend it on real commitments! Which will, in the grand tradition of Washington, be advertised as one-off extraordinary spending, but somehow will make it into future budgets as the baseline of spending, from which any cuts will be demagogued as harsh and cruel.

Mark Steyn heaps well-deserved scorn on this whole exercise:
But, aside from that, in what sense are these “savings”? The Iraq war is ended – or, at any rate, “ended,” at least as far as U.S. participation in it is concerned. How then can congressional accountants claim to be able to measure “savings” in 2021 from a war that ended a decade earlier? And why stop there? Why not estimate around $2 trillion in savings by 2031? After all, that would free up even more money for a bigger stimulus package, wouldn’t it? And it wouldn’t cost us anything because it would all be “savings.”
Come to think of it, didn’t the Second World War end in 1945? Could we have the CBO score the estimated two-thirds of a century of “budget savings” we’ve saved since ending that war? We could use the money to fund free Master’s degrees in Complacency and Self-Esteem Studies for everyone, and that would totally stimulate the economy. The Spanish-American War ended 103 years ago, so imagine how much cash has already piled up! Like they say at Publishers’ Clearing House, you may already have won!
It is becoming clearer and clearer that the US deficit will not be seriously dealt with until the country is in the same position as Greece is now. And given how well that's working in Greece, that may well mean that it's not dealt with at all. Unless you count 'default and being frozen out of credit markets' as a form of dealing with the problem. Which it is, after a fashion.

Reality will eventually deal with unsustainable spending one way or another. As Herbert Stein noted, if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. But you ought to care which way it happens. A car can stop by slowly pulling up to a red light, or it can stop by colliding with a brick wall. At this stage, I'm betting on the latter.

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