Balancing the Books

When most of us talk about “balancing the books,” we have a mental image of a bookkeeping ledger (for those of you too young to recall keeping financial records on paper, those ledgers were books filled with graph-like paper, on which one recorded assets and liabilities). The point was to balance revenues with expenditures.

Somehow, our discussions of the federal budget has operated on a different premise. Even David Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, has noticed the change, and I think it is fair to say he isn’t especially impressed with the House Republican budget plan, which deals with only the “debit” side of the ledger.

“It doesn’t address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit,” Stockman told Brian Beutler. “I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

I’m old enough to remember when David Stockman was considered impossibly conservative. But I am also old enough to remember that the real Ronald Reagan–whether you agreed with all his positions or not–looked very little like the icon that contemporary Republicans worship.