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Howard Dean was just being interviewed on MSNBC about the tax cut package and long term deficits. He was making the basic point that upper income tax cuts do little to stimulate the economy and do add to the deficit and long term national debt. He was knocking it around with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing when all of a sudden, Jansing exclaimed: Wait, since when are progressives the ones who believe in fiscal discipline and deficits?Dean replied that it’s always been a big thing for him, which is true. But the exchange shows how out of whack most of the budgeting conversation has been for the last three decades or so. With the possible exception of a brief period in the mid-90s — and even then you’ve got to be really generous — there’s never been a time since the beginning of the 1980s when the Democrats weren’t the only party putting serious pressure on budget balancing. It’s not even close — 1990, 1993, 2001. Indeed, let’s not forget that a huge part of the context of the Health Care Reform debate was making it budget neutral. In fact, it ended up creating modest deficit reduction.

I don’t want to single out Jansing. Because it’s an assumption of most cable chatter. It could have been a lot of other anchors saying the same thing. But Republicans do not care about deficits. They care about tax cuts. Arguably — and you have to be generous on this front — they care about the size of government. But not deficits. The only pressure for budget balancing comes from the middle of the Democratic party.

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