The bad news—and the second reason for gloom about what the politicians are up to—is that neither party is prepared to make the basic compromises that are essential to a deal. Republicans refuse to accept that taxes will have to rise, Democrats that spending on “entitlements” such as health care and pensions must fall.
This sort of false equivalence is extremely common in the mainstream press, but I am very disappointed to see it show up in the usually sharp Economist.
If it helps the editors at the economist, I can point them to quite a few attack ads from the 2010 election hitting Democrats for cutting 500bn from Medicare. Last I checked, Medicare was an entitlement program. Those cuts were in the context of a bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, that is scored to reduce the deficit by over a trillion dollars over the next two decades.
Democrats have been very willing to look at entitlements. Almost too willing. Kent Conrad has spoken repeatedly about raising the retirement age, as have many Democrats. I think this is a bad idea, but since raising the retirement age was advocated on the cover of the Economist a couple weeks ago, you would think they might have noticed.
On the other hand, the GOP worships at the alter of Grover Norquist and his pledge to never raise taxes. Tom Coburn is the only one even willing to look at eliminating tax expenditures, and he's facing a lot of criticism for it. The GOP won't raise taxes, period. The Democrats, on the other hand, have already taken a whack at entitlements with Obamacare, and they're showing plenty of willingness to do more. In its effort to look fair and balanced, the Economist has perpetuated a trope that is flatly untrue. On deficits, the two parties are not equal. And that's the story nobody likes to tell.