Panel debates Washington debt battle

May 4, 2011, 2:03 a.m.

Tuesday night’s panel on the current budget battle in Washington brought together political journalists and Stanford faculty at Cubberley Auditorium to discuss the merits of the Ryan and Obama budget plans, as well as the challenges in coming to a bipartisan solution to the growing deficit.

Panel debates Washington debt battle
David Leonhardt, economics correspondent for The New York Times, and Susan Davis, congressional correspondent for the National Journal, argue over the budget in Cubberly Auditorium (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily).

The event featured speakers David Leonhardt, economics correspondent for The New York Times and 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner; John Harris, editor in chief of Politico; Susan Davis, congressional correspondent for the National Journal and David Brady, professor of Political Science and senior Hoover fellow. James Fishkin, chair of the Department of Communications, moderated the discussion.

Leonhardt opened the panel by praising the Ryan budget plan. The plan proposes greater cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and discretionary domestic spending as well as a lower top tax rate than does the Obama plan.

“The Ryan budget is a reason for optimism,” he said. “It is more arithmetically honest than anything the Republican Party has done in the last years.”

Davis echoed Leonhardt, commending the Republicans for “the refreshing amount of candor” in their budget proposal.

Even so, Democrats and Republicans have not yet managed to reach a compromise to cut the federal debt, which is fast approaching the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

The problem, Leonhardt continued, is not the gap between the two parties but that the voters do not want the deficits solved.

“Is the American public dumb?” Brady said. “You can’t have everything. And yet, two-thirds of the time, Americans want a balanced budget, increased expenditures and lower taxes.”

“Well, we can’t have that,” he said.

In addition to this, Davis said the Ryan budget plan is incredibly politically risky. Medicare is one of the most beloved entitlement programs in the country. Cutting Medicare will target senior citizens, who, according to Davis, are some of the most politically aware voters in the country.

Harris noted that Democrats have little incentive to bargain. It might become “irresistible” for President Barack Obama to take advantage of the opening presented by the Ryan plan; Obama could present himself as a defender of traditional social programs and as a candidate of not only young voters but old voters, too.

According to Davis’ most recent polling data, the public is almost evenly divided between Obama’s and Ryan’s deficit reduction plans.

Davis offered advice to those audience members who might be undecided about these two plans.

“I think that the key is to consume as much news as you can,” she said. “There’s nothing you shouldn’t read. In a world where the media is simply more polarized, we need to be a little more discerning and read things that don’t necessarily fit in our ideological world.”

Brady took a step back to offer a global perspective on the $14.3 trillion debt.

“This is not an American problem,” he said. “Every democracy has this problem and no democracy has dealt successfully with this problem.”

Leonhardt and Davis made sure to end the discussion on a more hopeful note.

“We certainly can solve the [deficit] problem,” Leonhardt said.

“There is a lot of room for positivity,” Davis added.

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