Watching the debt ceiling debate in Washington is like watching North Carolina’s budget battle all over again. We found ourselves with an unsustainable budget deficit, Republicans pushed to cut spending, and Democrats scrambled to decry austerity and call for “compromise”. Even when the spending cuts are not that large – Perdue’s objection to HB 200 was education spending, but the difference between her budget and HB 200’s on education was just under 1.6% – or even when we merely slow the rate of increase in spending – Democrats invariably demand a “balanced approach”, which of course means tax increases.
Of course, the stakes are higher in Washington than in North Carolina, and the vitriol is accordingly more intense. Right after the flaccid debt deal passed, S&P downgraded its rating of US treasury bonds anyway, once considered the safest investment you could make. And of course, Democrats aren’t happy they didn’t get their way:
For Democrats, blame lies with Republicans who refused to allow tax increases.
“We need a balanced approach. And the extremism, the Tea Party obstructionism here in Washington, is keeping us from restoring that balanced approach that America has always used of investing in the future, investing in job creation, and also being fiscally responsible at the same time,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
So the obstructionist Tea Party, which wouldn’t accept tax increases as part of a debt deal, is responsible for the downgrade?
Casting the budget crisis in terms of “balance” is a marvelous rhetorical sleight of hand – as if spending cuts are a Republican (or even Tea Party) thing and tax increases are a Democratic thing, and both sides have to give a little to get us out of the crisis. It’s partisan moral equivalence. Sounds wonderfully magnanimous and bipartisan, doesn’t it?
That would be a good way to cast the issue if we were dealing with feuding families. If the Hatfields and the McCoys are fighting over a piece of land and making everyone around miserable with late night gunfire, public opinion might justefiedly tell them, “split the difference and leave us be”.
But we’re not dealing with private families. They’re not fighting over Republican territory and Democratic territory. They’re fighting over our money – and that changes the entire dynamic. Instead of imagining yourself as a bystander to a fight, imagine yourself walking back from dinner one night when a mugger approaches you and demands your wallet. You decide to stick up for yourself, and after exchanging a few blows, you realize you are about evenly matched in strength. The mugger, getting tired, pushes for a compromise: “You’ve got about $1,000 in your wallet, right? Why don’t you give me $500 and I’ll call it a day. After all, we’ve got to have a balanced resolution to this conflict, and I promised my wife yesterday that I’d buy her health insurance.”
Is this an appropriate situation to which to apply moral equivalence? If you refused, and your fight damaged the restaurant beside you, would you be at fault once the cops came? Would they charge you with “obstructionism” for fighting when you could have just compromised and given him the $500?
To blame the downgrade on a failure to raise taxes is to say the mugger has an equal right to your money as you do; that there is no presumption one way or another, so whatever stops the violence is the way to go.
The moral equivalence tactic shows that big-government lawmakers in both North Carolina and Washington realize they don’t have a leg to stand on. No longer able to unreservedly advocate for neverending expansion of government, talk of “balance” lets them take what they can and continue propping up the failing programs that got us into a budget crisis in the first place. Yes, in the short-term tax increases might look like a quick fix, but it’s disingenuous to think that further raiding the incomes of American families can put us back on the track to fiscal sanity.