In 2011, a target was identified for reducing a federal budget deficit then seen as out of control. The Simpson-Bowles commission adopted that consensus when it called for $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
With the sequester cuts official, we now have a score: Since the Simpson-Bowles commission announced its recommendations, Washington has cut the projected 10-year deficit by $3.9 trillion.
As the saying goes, that's close enough for government work. Why not just declare victory and move on?
That's easier said than done, of course, since the partisans in Washington seem unwilling to declare any battle ended. Republicans are still trying fighting to repeal the Affordable Care Act; some Democrats would like to keep fighting the battle of the sequester.
But this is a good moment to declare at least this phase of the deficit-reduction struggle completed. And it's important that Americans recognize what's been accomplished and how it was done.
Washington tamed the deficit in three steps: The debt ceiling deal, in August 2011, was entirely spending cuts; the fiscal cliff deal on Jan. 1 was all new revenue; and the sequestration that went into effect last Friday closed the deal with another $995 billion in spending cuts.
Together, those three acts add up to $3.9 trillion in deficit reduction, according to a New York Times analysis. Of that total, 66 percent came from spending cuts, 18 percent from higher taxes and 17 percent from savings in interest payments.
The spending cuts were uneven, the analysis finds: 50 percent came from non-military discretionary; 44 percent from military; 5 percent from health entitlements
It's important to realize what the successful effort to tame the deficit didn't include. It didn't include significant entitlement reforms. It didn't involve tax reform. And it provided for no job-creating investments in infrastructure, education or research.
The good news from the sequester showdown is that leaders on both sides have said there won't be another manufactured crisis when government funding runs out at the end of March. The House is to start work this week on finishing the fiscal year with the current, post-sequestration spending levels. There will be some flexibility given to the White House to shift money between accounts to reduce the impact of the sequester cuts.
We'd like to think there's still room for a grand bargain that includes tax reform that lowers rates while still producing more revenue, entitlement reform, and new investment in infrastructure and education. Arriving at such a deal is likely to be ugly, just as knocking $3.9 trillion off the deficit was ugly.
But further progress would be easier to arrive at if people would take this deficit reduction at face value, congratulate "dysfunctional" Washington on hitting the Simpson-Bowles target and declare this mission accomplished.
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