At The New York Times, Jonathan Weisman makes an important point about the political impact of the enormous deficit:
[A] new era of austerity in Washington is starting to turn legislating into a zero-sum game: somebody’s gain is someone else’s loss.
For years, pay-as-you-go rules meant to control budget deficits have been maligned as ineffective. Congress always found a path around them, declaring that they did not apply to tax cuts or labeling spending as “emergencies” not offset with equal spending cuts or tax increases.
But trillion-dollar deficits and a new core of spending hawks in the House and Senate are beginning to change that. Tax breaks once routinely extended — for business research and development, or wind energy, for instance — are languishing. Spending cuts proposed by the executive branch and rejected by legislators protecting their turf are getting a second look.
“Everybody’s got to take a hit,” said Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming. As a co-chairman of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission in 2010, he suggested targeting the mine fund, which was set up to clear out and fill abandoned coal mines, largely with a small fee on coal.
The vast majority of programs in the $127 billion transportation legislation will be financed with existing federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. But for some things, lawmakers had to turn elsewhere — and elsewhere hurts.