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How to succeed at deficit control without really trying

Writing for the Atlantic (online), Molly Ball makes explicit a thought you may have been having on your own. Considering that the most famous thing about the federal government over recent years has been gridlock, the Congress has managed to a do a great deal recently in strange, ugly, unintended ways, mostly as a result of mostly as a result of an inability to undo automatic provisions that were never intended to take effect. As a result, the decade or more of out-of-control increases in the federal debt has come under something that could be called control.

Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on raising taxes on the wealthy. But they just did. The Bush tax cuts had been enacted long ago (for technical reasons) with an automatic expiration after 10 years. After a complicated dance, because they couldn’t agree on anything else, Republicans had to accept an expiration of the cuts for the wealthiest families in order to prevent an expiration of the cuts for everyone.

Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a set of budget cuts, so, to pressure themselves into agreeing, they set up the sequestration, which was never intended to take effect.  But, since they still couldn’t agree on a set of rational cuts, the sequestration cuts have taken effect.

Higher taxes and lower spending has now produced a much-improved fiscal picture for those who care (or claim to care) mostly about deficit and debt. As a result, Ball writes:

“Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates that these changes, combined with the domestic-spending caps imposed by the 2011 debt-ceiling deal (and counting savings on interest), will reduce the deficit by $3.99 trillion through 2023. That’s enough to stabilize the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio, meaning that the debt will no longer be growing faster than the U.S. economy. In short, the deficit has been tamed.”

Her post is titled “The Do-nothing Congress has done a lot.”

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