Yet two budget plans released last week, one by House Republicans and the other by Senate Democrats, could be the basis for compromise if enough members of Congress were seriously interested in a deal.
For starters, the House budget plan, which was authored mainly by former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and which envisions eliminating the deficit in 10 years, contains a major shift in direction from Ryan's previous budget and from the plan he and Mitt Romney promoted last fall. And the shift is that it doesn't spend nearly as much on the military.
Indeed, Ryan's budget would spend "$2.3 trillion less on defense [over the decade] than he and Mr. Romney advocated," according to The Wall Street Journal. No bipartisan plan on the budget can possibly gain traction without addressing defense spending just as seriously as every other program, and House Republicans now appear disposed to concede as much.
To be sure, Ryan's budget still would transform Medicare into a voucher program and block-grant Medicaid money to the states positions that are far too radical in our view and non-starters for Democrats. And it neglects the need for additional revenue.
Moreover, we don't see any need to actually wipe out the deficit in a decade since that could stifle growth. Steadily reducing the deficit as a percentage of GDP ought to be the goal.
Not that Senate Democrats have come up with an ideal alternative. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., has put forth a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over 10 years, with roughly half coming from taxes and the rest from spending cuts and reform. We have no problem with Congress targeting more revenue, even after the tax hike approved early this year, if it comes mainly from closing loopholes. But we believe the Democrats' plan goes too easy on spending and that it shouldn't be that difficult to find, say, $2 in savings for every dollar in new revenue.
The Simpson-Bowles deficit commission managed such a feat more than two years ago, and it barely addressed health care spending, which will be the largest single driver of future red ink.
Murray's budget also avoids meaningful entitlement reform and fails to seriously reform the tax code.
So the Republicans go too far and Democrats not far enough at least on spending and compromise should be possible. But the record of the past few years is not reassuring, even as the public debt that our children will pay pay grows and grows.
The Denver Post, March 17