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Brooks and Marcus on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 3, 2010

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Brooks and Ruth Marcus, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away today.

David, Erskine Bowles -- I will not ask you any banana jokes to follow up on Simpson.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: But Erskine Bowles also said that the one thing this commission proves is there is -- or now sets out is an adult conversation about the deficit.

Do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: I do agree. I think Simpson must save those up over the years.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, he writes them down.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, he writes them down.

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: I do think it has had an important effect. Obviously, it is not going to go in effect any time soon, but it's had an effect in a number of ways.

It has expanded everybody's time horizons. So people are taking a look at the debt problem over more than just five years. Second, it has had a huge effect on tax reform debate. They really put some serious tax reform -- it sort of looks a little like 1986. And that debate has spread.

And I think that could come more quickly than people think. There is a serious debate inside the White House about trying to do some tax reform. There are some serious moves inside the Congress. So that I think was really given a boost.

And then, finally, the cuts that were suggested are the sort of thing we are going to have to do, and actually a little less than we are probably going to have to do. And so the whole debate, I think, in Washington has changed. Whether it will lead to quick legislation, no. But there has been a shift.

JIM LEHRER: A shift, a change, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: I think there has been a change.

Senator -- Senator Bowles -- Erskine Bowles said that the era of deficit denial is over. What has been unclear, and I'm feeling a little bit more hopeful about it today, is whether the era of actually not just denying, but dealing with the deficit has begun.

And I think so. I think 11 -- I see the glass as kind of eleven-fourteenths full and -- or eleven-eighteenths, depending how you want to measure the glass.

(LAUGHTER)

That's a lot. To see three Republicans and three Democrats, elected officials, on this commission supporting it is really something. To see Republicans acknowledging, yes, taxes, tax revenue will need to go up is something.

JIM LEHRER: Were you surprised that there were some liberal Democrats who supported this, after the initial response was very negative?

RUTH MARCUS: I thought it was very significant and very telling, and, from my point of view, very impressive that Senator Durbin was willing to come out and say something that he described as heretical, which is, yes, as part of a broader package, raising the retirement age for Social Security a very small amount over a very long period of time is acceptable.

These are the kind of realistic things. And, look, if this was my package -- David said that we are going to have to cut more. If it was the market's package, we would have to raise more in the way of tax revenue.

But it is a better package than the status quo, which is really, truly, not just unsustainable, but dangerous. And it's the kind of discussion, adult -- as adult as we have gotten.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And I -- the case I have tried to make to Republicans is, you don't like tax increases. I understand that. But it's better than national bankruptcy. It's just less painful.

And I'm not sure how many are there, but some are getting there. And to watch -- I would say, in general, in Washington this week, I have gotten a strong sense -- if you looked at the Senate floor or the House floor, there is still a lot of monkey business going on, to borrow Alan Simpson's metaphor.

RUTH MARCUS: Let's not go there.

DAVID BROOKS: But it is just the same old polarized games.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And that -- you could take that view.

But if you get on the phone and call members, you find movement on a lot of issues, like the serious discussions -- I mentioned the tax reform movement. There is some serious discussion of budget cuts among the freshmen who are coming in who are now in the midst of their orientation sessions, but also among some of the chairmen, who are pushing hard against...

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