Think Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles would be satisfied over a bipartisan agreement not to destroy the country in the next few months? Hardly. Now's the time when the vultures start circling, ready to swoop in.
Fix the Debt, the organization that took flight last year from the very deep pockets of octagenarian Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, held an afternoon event at the National Press Club to remind everyone that, crisis averted, the real problem in this country remained our crushing long-term debt. You might think that the fiasco of the past few weeks would have prompted some soul-searching within the organization—after all, its well-broadcast doomsday warnings of a nation drowning in red ink have only helped to feed conservative Republican fury about out of control spending, even as budget deficits steadily decline and the long-term fiscal picture brightens. It is that fury that, as much as anything, drove the brinksmanship over the government shutdown and debt ceiling, but Fix the Debt officials spoke as if they have had no role in bringing us to this point—as if, to the contrary, we arrived at this point precisely because we were not listening to them. Compared to them, the second-guessing Republicans on the Hill Wednesday were models of candor and self-awareness.As far as Fix the Debt (the catfood commission with a massive bankroll) is concerned, the only way we can have true bipartisanship and bring back sanity to government is if we punish the olds and the poors. Of course! And both sides are equally to blame, of course, because Democrats and liberals who think that taking money away from people on fixed incomes are just like tea baggers who take the nation hostage over the idea that more people should have a chance to buy health insurance.
Here's the problem. The Very Serious People did create the hysteria over the deficit that remains the primary infection of our public policy debates. They are the ones who created the idea, embraced by President Obama and too many congressional Democrats, that cutting just a little hole in the safety net for old people is a fair trade for Republicans perhaps acknowledging that maybe there should be some money spent on this government. That's going to be the prevailing mindset of at least a few of the members of the new budget conference committee created by Wednesday's agreement, and it's going to be the prevailing wisdom they hear from all the usual traditional media suspects. Because of that, this fight is far from over, despite Wednesday's reprieve.