A deal only a politician could love

The news readers on the financial networks this morning were almost giddy. The political class has reached a debt ceiling deal! The futures are up! Now we can get back to the serious business of letting fund managers talk their books!

This mindless cheerleading will go on for most of the day, or at least until the closing bell. But for those of us who look upon almost anything that oozes out of DC with contempt, there are a few hard facts to know about this “deal.” Fortunately, Cato’s Chris Edwards, again, does the dirty but essential work:

Spending isn’t being cut at all. The “cuts” in the deal are only cuts from the CBO “baseline,” which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending. And even these “cuts” from the baseline include $156 billion of interest savings, which are imaginary because the underlying cuts are imaginary.

No program or agency terminations are identified in the deal. None of the vast armada of federal subsidies are targeted for elimination. Old folks will continue to gorge themselves on inflated benefits paid for by young families and future generations. None of Senator Tom Coburn’s or Senator Rand Paul’s specific cuts were included.

The federal government will still run a deficit of $1 trillion next year. This deal will “cut” the 2012 budget of $3.6 trillion by just $22 billion, or less than 1 percent.

There are those, including many folks I respect, who will call even such lilliputian cuts as these a victory. And they have something of a point: for the last decade, the political class has cut nothing, so even the most modest of cuts, even if they are chained to the ever-rising baseline budget, are at least rhetorically significant. And even more, these pin-pricks have been achieved despite a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Democratic President, both of which were counting on, and campaigning for, higher taxes as part of any deal.

Fair enough.

But there’s an old, colorful saying: “Don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining.” This deal is not a solution. Entitlements, war spending, even grants for cowboy poets…they will continue unabated. And far sooner than almost anyone is willing to admit, the bills will come due and the shambling fiscal wreck that is the United States will find itself unable to pay.

Over the weekend on “The Score” radio show, Jim Bacon and I discussed the debt ceiling follies and what might really be required to set the nation on a sound fiscal course. You can listen to that wonky goodness here.

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