Fareed Zakaria frets about the recent debt-limit debate and longs for the days in which congressional Republicans would roll over and accept tax increases in return for promises of government spending cuts that never materialize.
Writing with a note of nostalgia, Zakaria’s latest TIME cover story sets out a different course — his preferred course — for the debt-limit discussions.
Evidence of a working system would have been the adoption of a grand bargain almost forged between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to reduce the budget deficit by almost $4 trillion over 10 years, a plan that might actually have been enforced, because both parties would have been invested in it, each having contributed to shaping it. The system would have worked if it had adopted some version of the Bowles-Simpson plan, which reduces the national debt by the same amount, with pain on both sides of the aisle, but in an even smarter way. This is how Congress used to work: grand bipartisan bargains to solve difficult problems with compromises by both sides. This is not nostalgia. It is how the system worked in the 1980s and ’90s to save Social Security, reform the tax code, rationalize immigration policy and close hundreds of military bases.
Here’s a question for Mr. Zakaria: If that process worked so well, how did the United State government reach such a poor state of affairs today? Could it be possible that “grand bipartisan bargains” of the past did not “solve” difficult problems, but instead kicked them down the road to today, when fewer politicians and voters are willing to whistle past the graveyard?
One can anticipate one answer to the first question: Blame George W. Bush. But that tactic is losing its effectiveness.