Monday, July 12, 2010

Bizarro World and the Deficit 2

Bizarro World, Deficit Edition: Democrats are for and enact small deficits, Republicans are for and enact large deficits, and yet somehow reporters can't manage to tell their readers that basic situation -- and in fact, claim that Democrats are going to be punished by voters because of the deficit (see previous post).

Item 1.  Ezra Klein notes that John Kyl claims that tax cuts should never be offset.

Item 2.  Brad DeLong:
  • Since the start of the 2000s, the Republicans have busted the budget wide open with three major unfunded initiatives--the perpetual war in Iraq, the Bush tax cuts, and the unfunded Medicare Part D expansion. The Democrats have paid for their major initiative--health care reform--and more than paid for it, overpaid for it enough to eliminate two-thirds of the fifty-year fiscal gap if Congress sticks to PAYGO...Since 1980 there has been a huge difference as far as fiscal balance is concerned between the two parties in how they behave when in government.
Hmmm...I don't have an item three, so I'll have to develop one myself.  I picked a GOP candidate for Senate more or less at random...I wanted someone reasonably mainstream, and settled on Mark Kirk.  Let's see what he's promising:

Kirk's third section of his "Issues" tab on his campaign web site is called "Fiscal Responsibility."  Under this, Kirk says that he opposed the stimulus and specifically mentions a $200M set-aside he opposed (although presumably the money just transferred to something else), and says he opposed last years' appropriations bill because of earmarks.  I'll comment on that later, after looking elsewhere on his site.  That's the first plank on that page.  The second plank is...the same; he opposes earmarks.  He then moves -- and remember, this is a section called "Fiscal Responsibility" -- to taxes, in which he says:
Mark Kirk voted for the 2001 and 2003 tax relief packages and supports making this tax relief permanent.
Last year, Congressman Kirk voted against a budget plan to raise taxes by $1.5 trillion and triple the debt over the next 10 years (S.Con.Res 13).
The year before, Congressman Kirk voted against a plan to raise taxes by at least $683 billion over the next five years (S.Con.Res. 70) and a proposal to raise the 10-percent tax rate bracket to 15 percent, re-impose the marriage penalty, cut the child tax credit in half, and raise taxes on seniors, working families and small businesses (H.Con.Res. 312).
Mark Kirk believes we should permanently repeal the death tax and marriage penalty, double the child tax credit and cut the capital gains tax.
So, basically,  fiscal responsibility is about tiny little cuts in a handful of earmarks, combined with massive tax cuts.

But that's not all!  Moving on, the very first tab under "Issues" is "Agriculture."  On this page, in addition to once again touting low taxes, Kirk "will work to upgrade and expand our river infrastructure to bring our lock-and-dam system into the 21st century. In addition, investments in rail and improvements to our interstate highway system will restore our state’s position as the nation’s economic crossroads."  He's also a "strong supporter of ethanol."  Bureaucracy?  He "will fight to expand the Foreign Commercial Service, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Development Agency."   Moving on, under "Getting Illinois Working Again" he "backed the O’Hare modernization project, Metra’s STAR line and other critical infrastructure upgrades to make Chicago the most attractive city for foreign companies to base their North American headquarters – meaning more investment and jobs for Illinois families. Congressman Kirk remains a long-time supporter of Amtrak and supports efforts to bring high-speed rail to Illinois."  Under "National Security" we learn that he voted for more spending on borders, but not much else, certainly not anything resembling a spending cut.  Under "Veterans"...well, you don't really me to tell you what any pol says about spending on veterans, do you? 

Yes, most of that is small potatoes, but for a guy who claims to oppose earmarks...well, he's obviously not against spending. 

So let's move to the big stuff.  Under "Healthcare" we are reminded that Kirk opposed the ACA.  Specifically, he opposed, we're told that he opposed the Medicare cuts in the ACA, as well as the new taxes.  Kirk doesn't actually call for repeal on his web site, but does describe his alternative as deficit-neutral; given that the ACA enacted a substantial reduction in the deficit, even if we take him at his word that his alternative (which appears, from the description, to have costs but no revenues or savings) wouldn't have increased the deficit, it certainly was worse for the deficit than what was actually signed into law.

If you add it all up, Kirk supports very large new tax cuts, spending cuts on tiny little stuff, and new spending on relatively larger items.  He opposes cuts in Medicare, and is silent about any Social Security or the larger military budget.    Oh, and he mentions that he wants to cut waste, fraud, and abuse, but has no particular proposal or mechanism to do that.  And I should point out that he says he's for cutting the deficit.  But really; he's campaigning on a platform of much larger deficits. 

Now, compare that to his opponent, Alexi Giannoulias.  Giannoulias supported the ACA, which slashes the long-term deficit; he also supports a public option, which CBO scored as reducing the deficit further.  Of course, the ACA will only cut the deficit if Medicare savings and new taxes actually remain law, but Giannoulias has no proposals to scale back or repeal those features (unlike, say, Mark Kirk).  Giannoulias supports plenty of new spending -- I'm not going to go through and list all of it, but there's quite a bit.  But he also supports PAYGO, and allowing Bush-era "tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans" to expire.  I have no idea whether Giannoulias's overall promises balance out.  There is plenty of new spending here.  But it very well might.  And while I tend to deeply discount process promises, specifically supporting PAYGO is much more specific than general "gee, I'm for a balanced budget" happy-talk. 

Both candidates feature rhetoric about earmarks -- which, since they're a tiny portion of the budget and eliminating them is a process, not a spending, issue, is basically deficit-neutral.  Both candidates also feature plenty of that balanced budget happy talk.  But as far as overall commitment to deficit size, it's not even close; Kirk is clearly for much higher deficits, while Giannoulias appears at least somewhat serious, and perhaps completely serious, about smaller deficits.  Which, again, only matches the last thirty years of behavior by both parties in Washington. 

I'll be glad to be corrected, either about the Illinois Senate race, or more likely other GOP candidates.  I will say this: if anyone has any evidence that Democrats running for office this year are pledging to either repeal the costs savings or the new taxes in the ACA, I'll definitely run an item on that.  Otherwise, I continue to believe that CBO was wrong to include such changes in its alternative baseline (and see DeLong, too, on that).  I'm sure that there are Republicans out there who are proposing more spending cuts than Kirk is, but I'll say this: I'd be surprised if any of them are proposing anything close to making up for their tax and health care policies.

One more time: I'm not advocating any particular deficit size.  I consider both large and small deficits completely legitimate policy options.  I just find it, well, totally Bizarro World that one the one hand, journalistic convention seems to allow reporters to write as if large deficits are an indisputably bad thing, but on the other hand, they're not allowed to plainly state that Republicans support large(r) deficits. 


  1. The rules of he-said she-said journalism says that journalists can only report that Democrats said that Republicans support large(r) deficits. If Democrats said the sky was blue and Republicans said that the sky was a fine shade of purple, the rules of he-said she-said journalism only allows journalists to say "and in today's news, Republicans said the sky was purple, and Democrats said the sky was blue." Because actually looking out the window and noting that, uhm, the sky is blue, would be "analysis" rather than "reporting", according to the rules of he-said she-said journalism.

    So... if journalists aren't going to tell us who's telling the truth, then who is? Hello? Hello? Is there anybody out there other than us bloggers? Helloooooo?!

    - Badtux the Journalism Penguin

  2. PS - this means Democrats need to point out every time Republicans lie so at least it's reported that Democrats say the Republicans lied about X. Unfortunately, the number of Democrats with the spine to call a Republican a liar seems to be close to none...


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