The sudden proliferation of deficit-reduction plans is a reminder that the deficit is, at its heart, a math problem. To get the budget into “primary balance” in 2015 – that’s wonk-speak for a balanced budget before interest payments, and it’s the target everyone is trying to hit – we need $225 billion in savings and new revenue. And you know what? That’s not so hard.
You get there by adding taxes and subtracting spending. As the differences between the various plans suggest, there are a lot of ways to do that. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the Bipartisan Policy Center, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and the conservative Americans for Tax Reform all have their own proposals, with their own unique mixes of policy suggestions.
Resolving the deficit, however, requires a different sort of math. The equation is almost insultingly simple: 218 + 60 + 1. That’s a majority in the House plus a supermajority in the Senate (though you could do this through budget reconciliation, meaning you only need a majority) plus a signature from the president. This math problem, however, is almost impossible to solve. That’s because the politicians don’t agree, and perhaps more important, neither do the people.