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In his op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times Paul Krugman refers to Michael Linden’s piece at the Center for American Progress which makes the distinction between what he calls “deficit hawks” and “deficit peacocks.” Linden describes the hawks as, “those who believe that the long-term deficits pose serious risks, but that short-term deficits are necessary and wise during a recession” and “those who believe that deficits are always risky and should be avoided at all costs.”

The two have this is common:

“Both kinds of hawks are genuine in their concern over our nation’s finances and are sincerely committed to working toward a more sustainable federal budget.”

Then he turns to the “peacocks:”

“Deficit peacocks like to preen and call attention to themselves, but are not sincerely interested in taking the difficult but necessary steps toward a balanced budget. Peacocks prefer scoring political points to solving problems.”

Unfortunately, this category takes in the lion’s share of our elected officials in Washington–on both sides of the aisle–whose top priority is their own re-election, and who see those “difficult but necessary steps” as an impediment to that. After all, difficult choices are not often popular choices.

Linden then lists 4 ways to distinguish the hawks from the peacocks. Peacocks:

“1. Never mention revenues.
Increasing revenues is going to have to be part of the solution for meeting the fiscal challenge. Any suggestion that we can solve this problem solely by cutting spending reveals an utter misunderstanding or ignorance of the budget numbers. Balancing the budget without raising any additional revenue 10 years from now would require cutting every program in the entire budget by more than 25 percent, including all defense spending, Social Security and Medicare benefits, air-traffic-control funding, veterans’ benefits, aid to schools, job training programs, agriculture subsidies, highway maintenance, and everything else.

2. Offer easy answers.
We face a very large budget gap over the coming decade, and the scale of the problem is such that no one solution is going to solve it all. It is going to take a mix of increased revenues, spending reductions, and improved government efficiency to get our fiscal house in order. Those who claim that we could get the budget back to sustainability if we only cut out earmarks, or say that the solution is to simply freeze discretionary spending, are just peddling fiscal snake oil.”

(Note: this article is dated January 20, prior to President Obama’s State of the Union address)

“There are no easy answers to our budgetary challenges. We have an aging population, rising health care costs, and a tax code full of loopholes, exceptions, and targeted subsidies. It is going to take more than simple solutions to meet these challenges. If you hear the words, “all we have to do to balance the budget is…” then you know whoever spoke them hasn’t fully grasped the scope of the problem.

3. Support policies that make the long-term deficit problem worse.
Congress voted repeatedly over the past eight years to make huge tax cuts and create new spending programs without offsetting any of those costs. Many of the very same members of Congress who voted for those policies are now loudly urging the president to clean up the mess that they themselves made.

4. (Sorry, Sen. McCain, but facts is facts.) Think our budget woes appeared suddenly in January 2009.
More than 50 % of 2009’s huge deficit can be directly attributed to policies enacted by the previous administration, and that is not counting the 20 percent that was due to the economic disaster that began and gathered its momentum on President Bush’s watch. President Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy, on the other hand, are responsible for only 16 percent…The Bush-era tax cuts alone will add more than $5 trillion to the budget deficit over the next 10 years.”

Linden concludes:

“There are people from all parts of the political spectrum who strongly and sincerely believe that our current budget path is unsustainable and are committed to taking concrete steps to put the country on a better path. But there are also many who are only interested in scoring political points or in getting in the way of progress on this issue. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Now, all you need to do to tell the former from the latter is apply any of these four handy tests.”

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