The pending debt deal is small ball. That's what makes the angst over its passage so astonishing. Cutting two trillion dollars in spending over ten years - if we really are cutting that much for in the fun house world of Washington accounting it's tough to know - is not trivial but it leaves the largest challenges untouched. That it took this much to get that little may be seen as an indictment of our political system, but I regard it as an indictment of the Democratic Party.
It's a popular Democrat trope about now to wonder "what happened" to the Republicans. In yesterday's New York Times, Tom Friedman gets misty for George H.W. Bush for being the kind of Republican who supports what liberal Democrats want to do. He believed in math and science, says Friedman. Friedman's math apparently requires that government spending not be permitted to fall below a certain percentage of GDP and that budgets may not be brought into balance without tax increases. His science admits only of the more extreme views on climate change and requires that we ignore insights from economics and political science which suggests that a cap and trade scheme on something as pervasive as carbon emissions is likely to be a disaster.
The problem with Republicans, we are told, is that they just won't raise taxes even on rich people who, being rich, don't need whatever additional money "we" may decide to take from them. The problem, of course, is that we already have a highly progressive tax system in which a large percentage of the population pays no income tax. Upper income persons already bear a substantially disproportionate share of the tax burden. While I suspect that some tax preferences will have to be looked at and that it may be inevitable that the Bush tax cuts will be permitted to expire for some upper income taxpayers (although, hopefully, not for those "millionaires and billionaires" who earn $ 250000), this is largely a spending problem and Republicans were right to take tax cuts off the table given the relatively modest spending reductions under consideration.
But, in the end, I agree with Charles Krauthammer and others who argue that this is the best that can be done for now. You cannot govern from the House of Representatives. It is amazing that Republicans were able to accomplish what they did. They have as Nicole Gelinas points out, demonstrated that "[w]e can’t spend what we plan to spend in the future without harming the character of the country." As Victor Davis Hansen observes, they have returned reality based views to the budget debate and largely rendered President Obama irrelevant.He and the Democrats became the "party of no" without a coherent vision of their own. We now that they don't like Paul Ryan's Roadmap or, presumably, any variant of that approach. We still don't know what they do like other than to continue the unsustainable.