good budget policy is a progressive value

Clive Crook and Christina Romer would like the President to come out harder on deficit reduction. Romer has some nice specifics:

To start with, they shouldn’t be defensive about having found $716 billion of Medicare savings as part of the health care reform legislation. They should explain, as former President Bill Clinton did in his speech on Wednesday, that these were reasonable changes that reduced overpayments to providers. They should ask Mitt Romney, who has vowed to roll back these reforms, why he wants to waste taxpayers’ money.

Romer also advises the President to “pair serious long-run deficit reduction measures with equally serious, near-term jobs measures,” which is exactly the right formula.

But Crook makes the philosophical argument:

Democrats fall easily into talking about public spending as though it’s virtuous in its own right — as though it’s something to celebrate. (Government is the only thing we’re all part of, so let’s have more.) This makes taxpayers nervous. A bit more reluctance to spend their money would reassure them. I suggest constant acknowledgement that the burden of proof is on government to justify its outlays. Let’s have some zeal now and then in opposing government expenditures that aren’t good value for money.

I think this is almost right. I’m not sure Democrats really think public spending is a good in and of itself. But it’s certainly true that progressives should be very comfortable cutting spending or modifying programs to make them more cost-effective.

The values progressives stand for include rationalism and respect for the scientific method. Progressives believe that government is and should be for the public good, and whatever doesn’t serve the public good should be pruned away ruthlessly. Try anything plausible; but eliminate, without pity or second thoughts, whatever doesn’t work. Eliminating $716bn of waste from Medicare in order to pay for better and more effective programs under the ACA is a terrific example of this kind of scientific approach to government, and it’s the kind of thing we should all be championing.

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