The U.S. federal budget is on an unsustainable track, with the gap between spending and revenues projected to rise far faster than our economy will grow. Policymakers are quick to talk about their commitment to the vague concept of “fiscal responsibility” but carefully avoid describing any of their specific ideas on how to accomplish it, because spelling out the tough choices is viewed as a politically losing strategy. But our leaders greatly exaggerate the areas of substantive disagreement over alternative policy options with their disagreeable rhetoric over differences in ideology.
Looking more objectively over the range of policy options, many groups of fiscal policy experts—including President Obama’s own bipartisan fiscal commission—have come up with proposals to reduce the deficit that are consistent with the fundamental goals of both Democrats and Republicans. Any realistic proposals must contain a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases that do not just reduce the deficit but encourage overall economic growth as well as a fair distribution of income. The next step is to emphasize the positive rather than the negative, and convince the American public and policymakers of the many and large mutual gains to be had from getting more “civilized” about deficit reduction.