If you want to see a road map for what the nation's politics will look like for the next several years, read this article. Mitch Daniels gave a speech Wednesday at the National Press Club and said, in essence, that we'll be running deficits at least till 2005. That is, if we're lucky.
Daniels' answer is to cut spending on various government programs, primarily social programs, and to put other programs -- like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, farm aid, etc. -- up for yearly votes and thus, potentially, yearly cuts. Daniels says Congress's willingness to move in this direction will be a test of whether elected officials can "govern as adults should in a time of crisis and urgency."
We've already noted, at various points, Mr. Daniels' inordinate propensity for knowingly, publicly making statements contrary to fact. (Look, one link won't do in this case. Here's a couple more (one and two.))
The problem with Daniels' analysis is that adults take responsibility for their actions, something he himself seems congenitally unable to do. Daniels' implicit argument seems to be that so much has happened in the last few months that whatever you might have said about the tax cut, now it's just old news. But this overlooks a pretty obvious point. There are three reasons the economy is moving back into deficits. The economic slowdown/recession, the totality of the effects of the 9/11 attacks, and the Bush tax cut.
We can argue about which is first, second, and third in order of importance. But these are the three factors. Two of them are beyond our control: the business cycle and murderous terrorist attacks from abroad. One is a conscious and deliberate public policy decision. Policy is always the part of the equation we can change and manipulate. The vicissitudes of fortune are the ones we can't. In other words, the tax cut is the one decision we could have made differently. It's the one part of the equation that someone has to answer for.
And of course don't forget that, according to Daniels, reducing the surplus was the aim of the tax cut.
I just wanted to pull the surplus down to zero, Daniels seems to be saying, then all this other stuff came along and dragged us into deficits. It's not my fault!
I'm just glad we're in the responsibility era now. Otherwise, where would we be?