Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Larry Summers hearts the busted Obama-Boehner deal

Progressives were having conniptions when details of Obama's never-consummated deal with Boehner emerged.  Three trillion in spending cuts, just $800 billion in new revenue -- no more than expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans would yield, and less than half the amount proposed by the right-leaning Bowles-Simpson plan. On the benefit side, social security benefits chained to the "chained CPI" (a less generous inflation calculation than the current CPI) -- and more jarringly, the Medicare eligibility age raised to 67.

A plan, it would seem, that Timothy Geithner could get behind (and probably was behind).  But I was surprised to read from Larry Summers today that he too apparently considers approximately the same level of revenue and presumably the same revenue-to-spending-cuts ratio sufficient:

First, the single largest and easiest method of deficit reduction is the non-extension of the Bush high-income tax cuts. The president should make clear that he will not accept their extension on any terms. That, along with modest entitlement reform, will be sufficient to hit current deficit reduction targets.
 "Modest" entitlement reform. That's how Obama characterized the $3 trillion in reductions from current spending trend lines in the deal-that-wasn't. And on the revenue side, Obama's pledge that he will not allow extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top bracket appears to have sunk in across the political spectrum:
Ryan said he assumes that Obama and congressional Democrats will make good on their pledge to let the tax cuts that benefit high-income households expire on schedule.“So their tax increases are coming,” he said.
Could all this negotiation be kabuki theater?  Is some functional equivalent of the Obama-Boehner deal, to be patched together by Nov. 2012, already baked in?

Well, no. Of course it matters a lot whether tax reform is tackled by the supercommittee or pushed off to round three -- legislation that heads off expiration of all the Bush tax cuts. And the broadest outlines -- the blithe talk of trillions one, two, three, four -- are sketched over trillions of details. And depending on the viability of design and the fortunes of the economy, the cuts legislated this year may or may not have much bearing on spending through 2021.  But it does seem that on a ten-year horizon a range of cuts -- $2-3 trillion -- and a range of new revenue -- $1 - 2 trillion -- will be written into law before 2012 is done.


  1. It took the USA an extra century or so, but we're finally seeing what every country that adopted the US model sees: it doesn't work.

    Almost every South American country jumped upon the US "checks and balances" system upon their Spanish independence[1] instead of a parliamentary or semi-presidential model and virtually all South American countries that adopted it fell prey to a strongman who could get things done.

    Parliamentary democracy? Works, see: USA, Canada, Japan, most of Europe, etc…. Semi-presidential democracy (France, Russia) generally works. Presidential democracy? IIRC it hasn't worked in a single polity outside the USA itself, and that's failing.

    It might be time to reconsider the whole deal. (Counterfactual fun: what if the USA adopted the United Provinces of the Netherlands model?)

    [1] Portuguese Brazil, of course, inherited the Portuguese monarchy when Napoleon threatened Portugal and it's a key factor in why wildly disparate Brazil stayed together while Gran Columbia, Peru-Bolivia, and the Federal Republic of Central America fell apart.

  2. "Works, see: USA, Canada, Japan, most of Europe, etc"

    Strike out the USA part of that because I am an idiot and didn't check it :).

  3. A. Nonymous,

    Japan works? Their system is stuck in a series of decision paralysis that inhibit their ability to make changes.

    Russia works? Yes, if you have money to bribe the relevant authority.

    "Most of Europe"? Which ones?

    Please elaborate on your point.