Bucking Conventional Wisdom

Whatever the final outcome of this lame-duck Congress, the fate of two major measures suggests that one of Washington's most reliable rules of thumb may no longer hold. That is the idea that what is hardest in this town is not raising taxes, but cutting spending.

Not only did a Democratically controlled Congress and president not allow a scheduled tax increase for most Americans to go through, they blocked the increase even on the richest Americans. And when Democratic leaders tried to ram through a massive trillion dollar spending bill, which would have raised baseline spending levels across the government, Republicans blocked it with ease.

Mind you, all this happened in the current Congress with its huge Democratic majorities. In a couple of weeks, those majorities will be gone, replaced by a Republican House and a much more closely divided Senate. Those are consequences of an election in which voters made plain their deep alarm over spending and deficits and their utter dissatisfaction over an economy unimproved in their view by the efforts to revive it through massive doses of borrowed government money.

In the next two years, raising taxes is likely to be politically impossible, while cutting spending will be politically necessary. And not just for Republicans who ran on these twin ideas, but also for the president if he has any hope of winning back the centrist voters who after all put him in office.