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The Grand Bargain, Theory vs. Reality

Bill Keller takes note of David Leonhardt's "build your own deficit reduction" feature, which he sees as a model for the bipartisan "Gang of Six":

Nearly 9,000 readers worked the puzzle. Individually, they were all over the map. But as a group, they accomplished the goal by splitting the difference: almost exactly half the savings came from tax increases, half from spending cuts. Collectively, readers seemed to realize that the hole we’re in is too deep to be filled by tax increases alone or spending cuts alone.
The result is broadly consistent with polls, which show that a majority of American voters hate most tax increases and a majority hate cutting entitlements, but — confronted with a choice of one, the other or some of each — they’ll go for the hybrid. ...
That’s why I’m rooting for the Gang of Six — the three Republican and three Democratic senators who have set out to negotiate a credible deficit plan that can move Congress past paralysis and toward compromise.

Keller's column is built around the assumption that the Gang of Six will produce a hybrid plan similar to the 50-50 mix preferred by the public. But all reports to date suggest the Gang of Six is working up a plan consisting of three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of higher revenue.

Why such a skewed distribution? They're trying to forge a compromise between Democrats who have a commitment to support certain programs and Republicans who oppose higher taxes as a matter of principle -- and, indeed, hew to a longstanding doctrine that refuses to acknowledge any connection between tax levels and the deficit.

Inevitably, any deal between such mismatched sides is going to be skewed. And that's why argument for such a bargain tend to dwell on the value of a bargain as an abstract proposition -- the long-term deficit is bad, compromise is good -- rather than on the less-attractive particulars.