Political debates over deficits and debt are always marked by obfuscation and technicality. The numbers are huge and frightening, the terms obscure and technical, and the simple, fundamental point of the argument gets buried underneath this avalanche of panic and esoterica.
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But for a brief moment Tuesday, under questioning from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Congress' top economic analyst made it perfectly clear to everybody who was listening.
"I think really the fundamental question for you is not how we got here, but where you want the country to go, what role do you and your colleagues want the government to play in the economy and the society?" said Doug Elmendorf, who heads the Congressional Budget Office. He was addressing the six Democrats and six Republicans on the new joint deficit committee, and for three hours he did his best not to get buried under the same avalanche.