The debt-reduction plan President Obama put on the table last week includes several hundred billion in savings, on top of the cuts that the administration has already accepted in social-insurance programs. Republicans responded by saying the cuts aren't "serious" enough.
And why not? Because as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) argued yesterday, "painful cuts ... have to happen."
This matters insofar as policymakers seem to be having a debate over the qualitative nature of "cuts." As Igor Volsky noted, the right seems to believes "serious" plans are ones that "directly reduce benefits or substantially increase out of pocket spending for seniors and poor Americans."
Quite right. If at-risk Americans aren't adversely affected by the cuts, then GOP policymakers aren't interested. As Corker seemed to suggest yesterday, "painful" = "serious."
Even putting aside the callousness of the argument, the larger Republican approach doesn't stand up well to mathematical scrutiny, either.
As Paul Krugman explained over the weekend, the White House's call for higher revenue through increased taxes on high incomes "gets treated with an unmistakable sneer," while Republicans' calls for raising the Medicare eligibility age "gets very respectful treatment."
So I thought I'd look at the dollars and cents -- and even I am somewhat shocked. Those tax hikes would raise $1.6 trillion over the next decade; according to the CBO, raising the Medicare age would save $113 billion in federal funds over the next decade.
So, the non-serious proposal would reduce the deficit 14 times as much as the serious proposal.
I guess we have to understand the definition of serious: a proposal is only serious if it punishes the poor and the middle class.
It's a point to keep in mind as the debate continues to unfold.