The senate’s been debating the budget the last day and a half, and it’s generally been an unedifying show. Republican senators talk exclusively about tax cuts and reigning in spending, but by “spending” they mean “non-military spending that doesn’t happen in my state or help my major corporate donors.” And Democrats keep harping endlessly on the debt and deficit. Yes, the Bush administration has squandered a surplus on tax cuts for the rich, a bloody, immoral war and a massive escalation of the security state. But! The Republicans are right when they point out that thedebt as a percentage of GDP is towards the high end, but not outside historical norms and that last year’s deficit was well within historical norms as a percentage of GDP.

I’ve never seen any polling data anywhere that suggests the deficit and debt moves voters, even if voters say they care about it. The problem isn’t the debt as such, it’s the massive increase in military spending, the long term challenge of health care costs and massively expensive tax cuts. The “debt” is too abstract to be politically useful, and harping on it confuses the symptom for the cause.

For this reason, I was heartened by this exchange betwen Sen Kyl and Sen. Sanders yesterday on the senate floor:

Mr. KYL. Madam President, I note that my friend and colleague, the chairman of the Budget Committee, is here. I thought I would begin by quoting something he said which I think sets the tone for the discussion of the budget. I believe it was during a March 4, 2007, interview on “60 Minutes” when the distinguished chairman said:

I believe, first of all, that we need more revenue.

Now I won’t pretend that I know the exact context in which this statement was made, but it is not the first time I have heard Democratic colleagues say we need more revenue. In one of our informal meetings, colleagues said: We will need a much bigger revenue stream when the next President is elected. That individual was presuming it would be a Democratic President.

Mr. SANDERS. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. KYL. Yes, of course.

Mr. SANDERS. Let me say, very clearly, to set the record straight, as an Independent, we need more revenue. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. We have people who are hungry. We have mothers who can’t afford childcare. Yes, sir, we need more revenue. We should ask the wealthiest people in this country to help us come up with the revenue.