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The enormity of the 10-year gap between federal spending and revenues

The Republican dilemma is more serious than they dare acknowledge, so is the Democrats’.

Writing for the New Republic, William Galston provides a helpful but incredibly depressing look at the 10-year projections for taxes, spending and debt. He frames it as an illustration of the problem Republicans face as they try to rebrand their party for future marking purposes. And it works. But I hope he or someone soon will do a similar analysis of the implications of these numbers liberal deficit hawks as well.

If all goes according to the Congressional Budget Office 10-year projection, the deficit in fiscal year 2023 will be a mere $978 billion. (We once thought that was a big number.) The current meaning of life for Republicans is to lay out a 10-year plan that leads to a balanced budget without any further tax increases. If you had 10-years to phase in $978 billion in savings, you might be able to do it without the proverbial throwing-grandma-off-a-cliff. I don’t know.

But as Galston points out, CBO is required to base its projections on “current law.” Current law includes a great many things that aren’t going to happen. Of the things that are scheduled to happen under current, Galston writes:

“Three are crucial: the budget cuts determined by sequestration will go into effect and remain in place for ten years; the reimbursement rate for Medicare providers will be allowed to fall steeply for nine years, starting on October 1; and the many temporary tax provisions extended for a year under the fiscal cliff agreement will be allowed to expire en masse at the end of the current fiscal year. If these three things don’t happen, the cumulative ten-year deficit would rise by more than $2.5 trillion, and the deficit in 2023 would be $1.307 trillion—about $300 billion more than under the baseline.”

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Galston argues that any mathematically-credible plan to balance the budget 10 years out without raising taxes would contain cuts that would utterly demolish the hoped-for Republican rebranding.

Galston doesn’t do a Democratic version of the plan that would deal with this scary future. Maybe Pres. Obama will lay it out tonight in his State of the Union. But don’t count on it.