Tapping the brakes on road to fiscal calamity 

Journalists and professional campaign consultants can’t resist talking about elections as “horse races.” For the same reason, they can’t seem to avoid picking winners and losers whenever the nation goes through a major debate in Congress, especially one that could result in a government shutdown.

So the media, new and old, have been full of speculation  about who “won” last week’s showdown over the latest continuing resolution to keep the government open during the balance of fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30.

On the one hand, conventional wisdom holds that House Speaker John Boehner and the House Republican majority came out ahead because they got $38 billion of the $61 billion in the spending cuts they demanded, plus agreements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow votes on defunding Obamacare and Planned Parenthood. The deal also mandates a host of studies about additional spending cuts in major federal programs.

As for critics who say the spending cuts are meaningless in a budget with a $1.3 trillion deficit, the fact is that $38 billion comes out of baseline spending and over the next decade will save more than $380 billion.

But Democrats didn’t come away from the agreement empty-handed. For one thing, they lopped another $2 billion off the defense budget for this year. Their fundraising efforts for the 2012 campaign got a boost, as seen in the eagerness with which both the Senate and House Democratic campaign committees issued a flood of direct and email appeals for contributions.

And in the same vein, there is little doubt that the incendiary rhetoric of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who repeatedly called the cuts sought by Boehner and the Republicans “extreme” and “overboard,” fired up Democratic activists across the country and enlivened their preparations for what promises to be a historic election debate about the future course of the country.

The tea party critics point out that the national debt climbed $54.1 billion during the week prior to Friday night’s drama. As the Conservative News Service reported, the national debt rose from $14.210 trillion March 30 to $14.262 trillion Thursday, and has increased $653.4 billion since the first day of the current fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Of course, debt is increasing so rapidly that even historically large spending cuts only slow the speed of the country’s descent to fiscal calamity. We have  much further to go, and even bigger battles can be expected.

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