Many people are raising an obvious and regrettable point about the current brouhaha over the shrinking budget surplus. Democrats can pin the blame on President Bush for causing this problem with his extravagant and improvident tax cut. But at the end of the day they still find themselves in precisely the position Republicans wanted to put them in: either take the politically dicey tack of scaling back the tax cut, push for spending which puts the budget further into deficit, or live within the fiscal straightjacket Bush created — precisely what the Bushies had in mind from the start.
The answer I think is that the Democrats will not, indeed cannot, win this debate as a matter of fiscal policy — at least not at first. But that’s not really so problematic as it may seem. Why this issue is potentially devastating for Republicans and the Bush White House is that this is at heart an issue of values and responsibility.
Democrats shouldn’t look at this as a fall-back from a more promising debate over fiscal policy number-crunching. This is actually just the sort of debate they should want to be having. The values and responsibility front is the Republicans’ strong suit and a point of vulnerability for Democrats — as the last election demonstrated. This renders vulnerable one of the Republicans’ strongest selling points to voters. That’s what makes this so potentially devastating for the GOP — if it’s handled correctly.