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Mon Jan 7, 2013, 04:15 PM

The GOP’s Next Round of Hostage Negotiations

Republicans like their chances in the next fiscal crisis—as long as the details stay vague.

By David Weigel|Posted Monday, Jan. 7, 2013

Around 10 years ago, before the Iraq War and the second round of Bush tax cuts, a New York Times reporter parachuted into the Hoover Institution to tap the wisdom of conservative economists. The last deficit had come in at $159 billion—unimaginably low today, but a stumble from the recent era of surpluses. And the economists reached by the Times, veterans from the pre-Clinton era, applauded Bush for erasing those surpluses.

“It is wrong to allow surpluses because these surpluses invariably lead to higher spending,” said John F. Cogan, a former OMB economist for Reagan and Bush I. “Governments simply cannot hang onto money.”

Well, we dodged that particular bullet. And this week and this weekend, spinning away the outcome of the Great Fiscal Cliff Showdown, we got the latest Republican catechism on how spending would finally be cut. The party will once again use the debt limit as leverage to demand entitlement cuts—the steepest anyone has discussed in 30 years.

Republicans spent the Sunday shows describing this as reasonable, natural, the next step from the tax deal. “We have resolved the revenue issue,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell on Meet the Press, “and the question is, ‘what are we going to do about spending?’ ” McConnell used that word, “resolved,” four times to describe the effects of a law that will raise maybe $620 billion while protecting loopholes for electric scooters and Puerto Rican rum. In a weekend Wall Street Journal interview so sympathetic it came with a complementary ...

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