The sad thing is, a truly conservative approach to the deficit does exist.
NYT business reporter David Leonhardt sees tax cuts but no deficit cut. There is a faint echo of past ideas.
The detailed plan would start in the same place that Republican campaign rhetoric does, with rooting out waste and bloat. Some tasks, like mail delivery and air traffic control, could be privatized. The federal work force could be reduced, and pay for federal workers could be cut. Federal aid to states could be cut, too.
But then comes the crucial difference.
Actual fiscal conservatives acknowledge that these steps do not come anywhere close to solving the long-term deficit.
The hard truth is that the way to reduce the deficit is the biggest no-no available, even if you're a Republican. It's reducing Social Security and Medicare. No. And the most painful among them is putting the military on a diet-- which, for insecure Republicans -- would be the equivalent of submitting to castration.
In the last two years, they have opposed several Obama administration plans for reducing the deficit, including cuts to Medicare, weapons programs and farm subsidies, as well as tax increases on the affluent. Given this history, my colleague Ross Douthat concluded that the pledge “might create a larger deficit than the Obama alternative.”
In short, the pledge imagines a world without tough choices, where we can have low taxes, big government and a balanced budget. And therein lies the path to ever larger deficits.
Stymied. So what can be done?
Leonhardt lays out the possibilities. Trimming Medicare -- well, and trimming the military and changing the eligibility age for Social Security. But there's a hitch: when you're running for reelection, forget about actually proposing these changes.
Bottom line: conservatives talk about the deficit but what Leonhardt says bears repeating, "The sad thing is, a truly conservative approach to the deficit does exist."
No wonder Democrats sound sane, realistic and unconflicted when they urge a return to the tax rates that carried the nation through some of our most prosperous periods in history.