Charles Blahous, a Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution, and a public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, argues that cutting spending for the rich is the best route to a bipartisan budget deal. He notes that the likelihood of reaching such a deal before the 2012 election is slim.
The essential problem is that the two major parties are now seeking to distinguish themselves on politically sensitive tax and entitlement policies at precisely the time that bipartisan cooperation on such issues is becoming most necessary. And yet there is a clear path available for the two parties to cooperate to improve the fiscal outlook while still preserving the cores of their respective political messages: namely, by cutting the growth of federal spending on “the rich.”
Democrats are largely stressing distributional issues. They charge Republicans with pursuing “tax cuts for the rich” and with plotting to cut vital spending on the poor. Democrats, at the same time, deny Republican charges that they (Democrats) are indifferent to the exploding growth of federal spending.
Republicans are generally focusing on the size of government. They charge Democrats with supporting runaway spending. They in turn deny Democratic charges that they are insensitive to the vulnerabilities of the poor.
This narrative leaves a sliver of space for the parties to agree to benefit cuts for high income persons in the areas of Social Security, Medicare and agricultural subsidies (the ‘rich’ must of course, be defined). If they cut such a deal, both parties could rightly claim they had held true to their core constituencies and stated goals (Republicans to reduce size of government; Democrats targeting resources to those most in need). Implementing a policy of cutting direct spending to the rich could be done most consequentially by slowing benefit growth to the rich in Social Security, increasing their Medicare Part B premium, and perhaps applying a new means test of some sort for them on Part A. Farm subsidies for the rich could also be ended. A deal along these lines might also help Democrats to avoid large cuts to the Medicaid program, which seems to be a priority for them.
These steps won’t do all of the work needed to address our long term fiscal imbalance, but they would represent a start, whose adoption might increase the chances that the 2012 election was fought out over the harder next steps to come on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense and taxes.
h/t Reihan Salam