Columns » John Brummett

It's a crafty deal — good, too

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The Tea Party doesn't like it because it doesn't cut spending enough.

Liberal bloggers at the Huffington Post don't like it because it cuts spending too much and doesn't raise taxes on rich people and on tax-avoiding and profit-reaping giant corporations.

Sounds like a pretty crafty deal, doesn't it?

On closer examination, the deal looks even better than crafty. I like it for more reasons than that the extremists don't. I like it on its own merits.

Sure, we need to raise taxes on high incomes and to close business tax loopholes. But remember what that old guy with the silver hair — Clinton, I think was his name — always said. It was not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

That is to say that sometimes you settle for a field goal. Sometimes you punt. About twice in a decade, you even need to turn around and run through your own end zone for a safety.

First, the debt ceiling would be raised so that our nation could behave as a responsible adult and pay its debts.

Second, this increase would extend past the next election so that we can keep paying on our debt without enduring this kind of juvenile nonsense in election season, when even the kind of last-gasp sanity we're now seeing would not be likely.

Third, we will have further rounds of cuts — automatic and then those to be recommended by a bipartisan commission — that members of Congress would have to vote either to adopt or stop. Otherwise, in the absence of congressional action, they would take effect in part automatically.

Fourth, Social Security, Medicaid, children's health benefits and veterans' benefits would be specifically excluded from any automatic cuts. That's because Social Security is all right for now on its own; because Medicaid is vital to extended health care and federal cuts would simply transfer the onus to struggling state governments, and because kids and veterans deserve continued levels of support.

Fifth, Medicare is on the table for automatic cuts because we simply cannot long sustain its drain on the federal treasury and because — and this is key — we can cut what we send to providers, such as hospital and doctors, without necessarily imperiling health care for seniors.

We must find a way to do that, actually, and it would be nice if the AARP would dispense with the attack ads on Congress whenever the hospitals and doctors whine. Health care for seniors must be thorough, but that doesn't mean we can't find a way to spend less federal money on every visit, every test, every procedure, every scan, every surgery.

Sixth, tax "reform" would be on the table for bipartisan commission discussions, which might include — should include, indeed must include — closing of the kinds of loopholes by which General Electric and oil companies can laugh tax-free all the way to the bank.

So there you have it, a little something for both sides and a lot of something against both sides.

Objections are less matters of policy than of politics.

Democrats decry the lack of an exemption for Medicare, not on merit so much as on the basis that Paul Ryan's draconian plan had made Medicare an electoral advantage for Democrats that may now be mitigated or lost.

Republicans decry the Social Security and Medicaid exemptions and that we will continue to talk about raising anybody's taxes. The mainstream among them act this way, one would hope, not so much out of allegiance to rich people or negligence of poor and sick ones. We can hope they act this way merely because of a calculated need to keep the rabidly right-wing Tea Party base partially appeased.

The deal shows that government can work eventually. That it presses up against the deadline shows that government doesn't work efficiently or responsibly or admirably.

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