The biggest risk for the Democrats, aside from having to defend Pentagon cuts, is going to be the GOP charge that the Democrats wouldn’t deal because they want to keep spending money we don’t have. This charge will resonate with independents, I expect. And this is where the Democrats need to do something they’re usually afraid to do. They need to make the case that we did not simply spend our way into this crisis. This is what the Republicans always say. It’s what conservative commenters on these threads say. It’s total propaganda, but it’s effective propaganda.
We didn’t “just” spend our way into this crisis. Spending is part of it—under the Bush administration too, by the way, which increased discretionary outlays by a staggering 48.6 percent, we de-taxed our way into it. Bruce Bartlett, citing the Congressional Budget Office, pegs the cost of the cuts at about $2.8 trillion from 2001 to 2010. And of course we deregulated our way into the financial crisis as well, letting banks bet against their own mortgage holdings, with no one watching, with Republicans (and yes, some Democrats, but not a majority) standing there cheering.
Whatever built-in advantages and disadvantages exist for each side, when the supercommittee fails, the winner will be the party that has more successfully sold its explanation of the failure. The GOP’s story is simpler: too much spending. But it’s a lie, and a stupid and cynical and insulting lie at that (but why should it be anything else?) The Democrats’ best story—some excess spending, but also excessive tax cuts, and no one minding the henhouse when the foxes were taking the eggs up through September 2008—is actually true. They just have to be willing to tell it, while also tying the top 1 percent around the GOP’s neck. In the current proto-populist climate, complicated could actually win for a change.