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PD Editorial: The rising price of budget showdowns

  • (DAVID HORSEY / Los Angeles Times)

If you sprained your ankle, would you:

A. Take your weight off the injured leg.

B. Treat the swelling with ice.

C. Get a haircut.

If you picked “C,” you might consider a future in politics.

No, our subject today isn't appearances.

Then again, maybe it is.

When the subject is budget deficits or the national debt, Washington politicians, especially House Republicans, know all about striking a pose.

But with another fiscal showdown looming, let's not lose sight of this fact: All too often, these exercises produce a lot of smoke but not much substance. Or, even worse, the results end up being counterproductive.

Consider two of the most recent conflicts.

After the congressional supercommittee failed to reach a grand bargain on debt reduction, automatic spending cuts took effect earlier this year.

Sequestration, as those cuts have been called, has temporarily trimmed the budget deficit by squeezing an array of vital federal programs — scientific research, education, air traffic control, even weapons purchases. The FBI is girding for an 10-day, agency-wide furlough.

But the big entitlement programs that are driving the debt were largely exempted from the spending cuts.

Republicans rejected an offer from President Barack Obama to trim entitlements in return for some tax increases targeted at the wealthy and undoing some of the worst consequences of the sequester.

Nine months ago, to seal an 11th-hour deal to avoid defaulting on the debt, Congress made most of the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. After revising its 25-year revenue projection, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported this week that the tax cuts will double the national debt.

Government borrowing will reach 100 percent of GDP by 2038, according to the new CBO projection, which describes debt of that magnitude as “unsustainable.” “Previous projections showed the debt drifting down to 52 percent of GDP by that time,” the Washington Post reported.

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