Austerity is in vogue

(L-R) U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) participate in a Joint Deficit Reduction Committee hearing October 26, 2011 in Washington, DC.

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Kai Ryssdal: These are not the best of times to be a member of the United States Congress. Just 13 percent of us approve of our duly elected representatives. But it's arguably an even worse time to be a member of the congressional super committee, the dozen lawmakers who've got the unenviable tasks of cutting the deficit by $1.2 trillion -- by Thanksgiving.

They're being hounded by lobbyists, their own party leaders and colleagues, and now the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and a bipartisan group of others who's saying just $1.2 trillion? Bloomberg and the rest want a much bigger package, maybe $3 trillion or $4 trillion in cuts.

The National Journal reports Bloomberg's hosting a "Go Big" dinner party this weekend, as Washington comes to terms with a new economic term. Marketplace's David Gura reports.

David Gura: You know what's all the rage here, in D.C.? It's austerity.

Dean Baker: Oh yeah, I mean, there's an absolute obsession.

That's economist Dean Baker. He hasn't bought into the "Go Big" hype that some lawmakers and pundits have. You won't see him in one of their videos.

Last month, 60 people wrote a letter (PDF) to the super committee, saying we have to bring down the deficit now; that entitlement programs are unsustainable and our credit rating is on the line.

Baker says, "Hold on a sec." First, the government should spend to create jobs and fix our short-term problem. Then it can deal with the deficit.

Bob Bixby disagrees. As head of the The Concord Coalition, he's been sounding the alarm about the deficit for decades.

Bob Bixby: I think you can walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to the budget.

Bixby signed that letter to the super committee.

Bixby: It is entirely consistent to be talking about measures that will help the economy in the short-term, or at least not harm it, while at the same time enacting long-term deficit reduction measures.

The trouble is, that it sounds contradictory. Jim Kessler's with Third Way, a centrist think tank.

Jim Kessler: Boy, that's a hard message to sell. Like, we need to really reduce the deficit, but we've got to spend more right now.

Kessler says he believes that you can do both, but Congress isn't getting that nuance. The message is "Go Big" -- or go home.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a senior reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.


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