On debt

I have little more to contribute to the discourse over the debt-ceiling debacle — part of the never-ending 2011 budget cutting season (partly a result of this Congress’ record low productivity and thus inability to pass even the most routine of budgetary measures) — so here’s a few quotes I’ve relished from this most recent debate between prudence and insanity:

Perhaps best of all, David Brooks:

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases… This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures…

Dana Milbank, WaPo:

But while Reagan nostalgia endures, a number of Republicans have begun to admit the obvious: The Gipper would no longer be welcome on the GOP team. Most recently, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (Calif.) called Reagan a “moderate former liberal . . . who would never be elected today in my opinion.” This spring, Mike Huckabee judged that “Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible time being nominated in this atmosphere,” pointing out that Reagan “raises taxes as governor, he made deals with Democrats, he compromised on things in order to move the ball down the field.”

The Economist‘s editorial:

Now, however, the Republicans are pushing things too far… The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical…

America’s tax take is at its lowest level for decades: even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when he needed to do so. And the closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look…

Adam Levitin, a bankruptcy attorney in California, foresees a disaster in the newly rewritten Balanced Budget Amendment (and correctly wonders just how enforceable the amendment could be):

Here’s the true lunacy of the bill, it would require a 2/3s majority (by rollcall vote) in both houses for any bill to increase revenue. Let me repeat that again: any tax increase would have to be approved by a 2/3 majority in both houses. That’s a federal version of Proposition 13, the state Constitutional amendment that destroyed California by requiring supermajorities for tax increases. It effectively gives a selfish minority the ability to stymie actions that benefit the whole.

Robert Bixby, executive director of the original deficit hawks at the Concord Coalition, echoes the sentiment:

The whole point of a balanced budget amendment is to ensure that future generations are free to make their own fiscal decisions. It is inconsistent with that freedom to forever mandate a particular level of spending or to permanently favor spending cuts over revenue increases as the manner of managing these decisions.