Scores of stories will be written Tuesday about the generational debate over the size and scope of government — and, yes, the divisions are deep, as evidenced by President Obama’s 2015 budget request to pour more money into traditional antipoverty programs that Republicans consider wasteful, pro-dependency policy.
Here’s a shorter list of things that most Democrats and Republicans agree upon:
1. The post-industrial economy and the Great Recession have created durable unemployment and social malaise, with a growing number of Americans questioning whether they and their children still have the ability to do better. In their comprehensive analysis of the budget debate, Zachary A. Goldfarb and Robert Costa of The Washington Post wrote that both sides “seek to tap into powerful anxieties about how hard it is for the average person to get ahead in today’s economy.”
2. While the parties disagree strongly on how to broaden the ladder of success, both Republicans and Democrats support the Earned Income Tax Credit, a cash bonus of sorts for working families. Obama wants to expand eligibility at a cost of $60 billion. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan excluded the EITC from his scathing report on Democratic-backed programs that he argues foster dependency on welfare. “The consensus among studies on the EITC is that it is an effective tool for encouraging and rewarding work among lower-income individuals, particularly single mothers,” the report says.
3. Republicans and Democrats also favor taxing the accumulated overseas profits of global corporations and using the money to pay for infrastructure projects. Despite the consensus, such reforms to the tax code are unlikely to be addressed in an election year.
4. Obama’s budget request is just two-tenths of a percent higher than his 2014 budget of $1.012 trillion because both levels were established in a White House-GOP House budget deal in January. More broadly, leaders of both parties have cynically agreed to postpone (at the risk of killing) negotiations toward a “grand bargain” that would attack both the nation’s $17.3 trillion debt and the annual deficit, which will top $500 billion this year and is projected to skyrocket in the next two or three years as an aging population gobbles entitlements. A responsible long-term plan would require both new revenue (opposed by conservatives) and curbing entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security (opposed by liberals).
5. Obama’s budget is dead. It will be rejected by narrow-minded conservative partisans, just as Ryan’s efforts will be denounced by stubborn liberals. Both parties failed to recognize that adapting to a global economy, a technological revolution, and massive social change requires innovative — even radical — thinking. Which leads to the sixth item of consensus …
6. Not unlike the challenge facing political leaders at the turn of the 20th century, the White House and Congress need to find the new formula for hastening economic growth while helping people adjust to vast change. On this most Americans agree: Their leaders aren’t up to the job.