First, when I wrote on Monday, the Senate hadn’t acted yet, and certainly not with an 80-vote majority. The political calculations, and the cost of inaction by the House, shifted once the Senate acted.
But that’s the least important reason. The second lies in the Senate deal actually meeting (or almost entirely meeting) my specifications on Monday:
Any deal that delays the spending cuts under sequestration (without replacing them with other cuts) should be anathema. If this deal re-raises spending (on anything other than defense), it should be an absolute non-starter.
Now, if it delays sequestration, but replaces it with other, specified spending cuts instead of an across-the-board bludgeon, then that is actually BETTER policy than sequestration.
Well, the end result was indeed that the sequestration cuts were replaced with other cuts. Or at least they were offset with an equal amount of “savings.” Now, it is true that small portion of the offset comes from a change in Roth IRA accounting rather than from spending cuts. And it is true that the cuts aren’t “specified” as I had hoped. But the offsets do come in the form of law — in budget “caps” going forward that, while hardly foolproof, do actually provide several important hurdles in the way of those who would exceed them. Moreover, by keeping intact under law the exact same budget targets as under the original sequestration deal, and by keeping 5/6ths of those savings in the form of the very hard-to-evade bludgeon of sequestration (if Congress doesn’t act, sequestration is automatic; the GOP need not do any more bargaining to achieve those savings), fiscal conservatives are no worse off than they were a week ago. Tactically, in fact, they are better off, because they preserved sequestration, but without the threat of higher taxes that will kick in for everybody and automatically, if they don’t act.
There are several other techical and tactical considerations, but space and time don’t allow a full exploration of them — except, except, except! — for the great victory conservatives achieved on taxes that was beyond anything I think anybody hoped for. That victory comes in the form of keeping the full $5 million exemption against death taxes ($10 million for couples!), plus the additonal benefits, never anticipated, of being permanent and being permanently indexed for inflation. The second victory comes in the permanent, indexed-for-inflation fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Considering that the right was facing a possible hike on all taxes being blamed on us, and that the alternative was a hike on all income about $250,000 without any conservative gains on the AMT and the death tax (and possibly a big loss on the latter), the end result was far, far better than had seemed possible after seven weeks of misplaying the conservative hand. Indeed, on tax policy, we nearly achieved a draw. On spending, we achieved at least a draw (with the added benefit of buying time to save defense). And in terms of politics, conservatives bought themselves two months to regroup and improve tactics, strategy, communications, and mood.
For all those reasons, the “over-the-cliff” advice I offered turned into the “cough-cough, splutter-splutter, well, okay, it’s not awful” conclusion I reached a day later. Both the policy and the politics of the situation argued slightly more in favor of the deal than before. On such a close call, considering the political reality that applied, I don’t see how anybody could be really angry at anybody who voted either way on the deal. If David Vitter, Jeff Sessions, Pat Toomey, Tom Coburn, and Ron Johnson(aong other solid fiscal conservatives) thought it was on ever-so-slight balance better to pass it than to defeat it, it’s just not fair to accuse those who voted for it of being “squishes” or “spineless”or “RINOs” or any other such epithet. This was no abandonment of principle; at worst, it was an improper weighing of conflicting pluses and minuses in terms of both principle and politics.
Now is the time to stop cannibalizing ourselves, and instead to move on and take the political advantages that are afforded by the next two budget-related battles. More on those advantages later…..
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