“The Incredible Shrinking Issue”: Lack Of Jobs, Not The Deficit, Is The Actual Scandal That Congress Should Be Trying To Grapple
Republicans gleeful over the recent slew of scandals afflicting the Obama administration – some imagined and some worthy of the name – should be thanking their lucky stars that they have new issues to wield as political cudgels. After all, their favorite of the last few years, the federal deficit, is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
The Congressional Budget Office – Washington’s nonpartisan number crunchers – released new projections Tuesday showing that the deficit will fall to $642 billion this fiscal year, a 24 percent drop in its projection from just a few months ago. The improvement is primarily due to increasing revenue and fewer expected outlays to government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
If this holds, it will be the smallest the deficit has been since President Barack Obama took office. As a percentage of the economy, the deficit will have been cut by more than half over Obama’s first five years, from 10.1 percent in 2009 to 4 percent in 2013.
And the incredible shrinking deficit doesn’t stop there, falling to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2015, which, as the New York Times David Leonhardt noted, is “a level many economists consider healthy.” (For comparison’s sake, the much-ballyhooed Simpson-Bowles budget plan called for a deficit in 2015 of 2.3 percent of GDP.) It’s also worth noting that the CBO assumes perpetual levels of both war spending in Afghanistan and aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, so the projections for future years will certainly be lower than they appear now.
This report is one more piece of evidence showing that the economic discussion that has gripped Washington recently is absurdly backwards. The short-term deficit is barely a problem, while the long-term issue for the nation’s finances remains, as everyone has known for years, spiraling health care costs (but there’s reason to believe they are also coming down).
What the dropping deficit has not done is spark the sort of economic growth or job creation that will bring down America’s still-too-high unemployment rate; lack of jobs, not the deficit, is the actual crisis with which Congress should be trying to grapple. In fact, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Jared Bernstein notes, the deficit is coming down too fast considering the country’s current economic doldrums:
The deficit is falling quickly when it shouldn’t be and rising later when it shouldn’t be.
Certainly, if facts drove the day, this update would be a fire hose for the hair-on-fire austerity crowd re: the near-term deficit. The patient is checking out of the hospital while Drs Cantor, Ryan, and McConnell are still preparing for major surgery.
Considering that Republicans on the House Budget Committee claim that the CBO report “provided a fresh reminder of Washington’s out-of-control spending,” chances seem slim that those pushing austerity will change their tune anytime soon. So perhaps the silver lining in lawmakers focusing on what they see as today’s hottest “scandal-gate” is that it will distract them from doing any more to undermine the economic recovery or to cut a deficit that doesn’t need to be cut anymore.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, May 14, 2013
Why don’t Democrats just say it? They really believe in active government and think it does good and valuable things. One of those valuable things is that government creates jobs — yes, really — and also the conditions under which more jobs can be created.
You probably read that and thought: But don’t Democrats and liberals say this all the time? Actually, the answer is no. It’s Republicans and conservatives who usually say that Democrats and liberals believe in government. Progressive politicians often respond by apologizing for their view of government, or qualifying it, or shifting as fast as the speed of light from mumbled support for government to robust affirmations of their faith in the private sector.
This is beginning to change, but not fast enough. And the events of recent weeks suggest that if progressives do not speak out plainly on behalf of government, they will be disadvantaged throughout the election-year debate. Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election owed to many factors, including his overwhelming financial edge. But he was also helped by the continuing power of the conservative anti-government idea in our discourse. An energetic argument on one side will be defeated only by an energetic argument on the other.
The case for government’s role in our country’s growth and financial success goes back to the very beginning. One of the reasons I wrote my book “Our Divided Political Heart” was to show that, from Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay forward, farsighted American leaders understood that action by the federal government was essential to ensuring the country’s prosperity, developing our economy, promoting the arts and sciences and building large projects: the roads and canals, and later, under Abraham Lincoln, the institutions of higher learning, that bound a growing nation together.
Both Clay and Lincoln battled those who used states’ rights slogans to crimp federal authority and who tried to use the Constitution to handcuff anyone who would use the federal government creatively. Both read the Constitution’s commerce clause as Franklin Roosevelt and progressives who followed him did, as permitting federal action to serve the common good. A belief in government’s constructive capacities is not some recent ultra-liberal invention.
Decades of anti-government rhetoric have made liberals wary of claiming their legacy as supporters of the state’s positive role. That’s why they have had so much trouble making the case for President Obama’s stimulus program passed by Congress in 2009. It ought to be perfectly obvious: When the private sector is no longer investing, the economy will spin downward unless the government takes on the task of investing. And such investments — in transportation and clean energy, refurbished schools and the education of the next generation — can prime future growth.
Yet the drumbeat of propaganda against government has made it impossible for the plain truth about the stimulus to break through. It was thus salutary that Douglas Elmendorf, the widely respected director of the Congressional Budget Office, told a congressional hearing last week that 80 percent of economic experts surveyed by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business agreed that the stimulus got the unemployment rate lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise. Only 4 percent disagreed. The stimulus, CBO concluded, added as many as 3.3 million jobs during the second quarter of 2010, and it may have kept us from lapsing back into recession.
So when conservatives say, as they regularly do, that “government doesn’t create jobs,” the riposte should be quick and emphatic: “Yes it has, and yes, it does!”
Indeed, our unemployment rate is higher today than it should be because conservatives blocked additional federal spending to prevent layoffs by state and local governments — and because progressives, including Obama, took too long to propose more federal help. Obama’s jobs program would be a step in the right direction, and he’s right to tout it now. But he should have pushed for a bigger stimulus from the beginning. The anti-government disposition has so much power that Democrats and moderate Republicans allowed themselves to be intimidated into keeping it too small.
Let’s turn Ronald Reagan’s declaration on its head: Opposition to government isn’t the solution. Opposition to government was and remains the problem. It is past time that we affirm government’s ability to heal the economy, and its responsibility for doing so.
By: E’ J’ Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 10, 2012
The Path to Prosperity blueprint of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan—the foundation for the budget that the House passed last week—reflects conservative politicians’ war on government. As my Center on Budget and Policy Priorities colleagues conclude about a Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, analysis of the Ryan plan:
The CBO report, prepared at Chairman Ryan’s request, shows that Ryan’s budget path would shrink federal expenditures for everything other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and interest payments to just 3¾ percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050. Since, as CBO notes, ‘spending for defense alone has not been lower than 3 percent of GDP in any year [since World War II]‘ and Ryan seeks a high level of defense spending…the rest of government would largely have to disappear.
The conservatives’ war is sustained by a series of myths.
Myth No. 1: Spending Is Out of Control, and Only Draconian Cuts Will Rein It In
As my colleagues at the center have shown, however, noninterest spending outside Social Security and Medicare spiked in the Great Recession but is scheduled to fall substantially as a share of GDP as the economy recovers (see chart).
To be sure, government spending will rise as a share of gross domestic product as the population continues to age, healthcare costs throughout the economy continue to rise, and more Americans become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. But, my Center on Budget and Policy Priorities colleagues have written:
When Americans hear talk of the government exploding in size and reach, they don’t usually think this means that more people will receive Social Security and Medicare because the population is growing older or that Medicare will cost more because of factors like the aging of the baby boomers and advances in medical technology that improve health and prolong life but at significant cost. Outside of those demographic and health cost factors, the portrait of a rapidly growing federal behemoth is simply at odds with reality, since costs are shrinking to levels well below their historical averages.
Myth No. 2: The Country Faces a Looming Debt Crisis Due to the Debt Incurred In the Past Few Years
That myth fueled irresponsible brinksmanship over legislation to raise the nation’s debt limit last year, and it stands in the way of meaningful deficit-reduction.
While the policies that Presidents Bush and Obama and Congress enacted to combat the financial crisis and Great Recession helped drive up deficits after 2007, those policies were temporary and will have little effect on deficits and debt going forward. The weak economy and the legacy other policies enacted under President Bush (especially his tax cuts) play a far larger role. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office calculates that under current law (which calls for the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of this year), deficits would fall over the coming decade as the economy improves, and debt would fall to 61.3 percent of GDP in 2022.
Yes, the gap between spending and revenues will rise again as a share of GDP in later decades if we don’t take prudent action to rein in future deficits. Policymakers and analysts who are not ideologically committed to radically shrinking government recognize that this will require a balanced mix of revenue and spending measures. But such a balanced policy runs up against myriad tax myths, including the following:
Myth No. 3: Americans’ Tax Burden Is High and Rising
That’s certainly the impression the Tax Foundation wants to convey in its latest “Tax Freedom Day” report released earlier this week: “Americans will work 107 days into the year, from January 1 to April 17, to earn enough money to pay this year’s combined 29.2% federal, state, and local tax bill. “
But notice, the report does not refer to “every” American or the “typical” American. That’s because, as this Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report demonstrates, four out of five U.S. households likely pay a much lower average tax rate than the one highlighted in the Tax Foundation report. Moreover, average federal income rates are at historic lows for typical taxpayers. When total taxes, including federal and state and local taxes, are taken into account, the United States has one of the lowest average tax rates among all industrialized countries.
So, here’s the question:
Are those who advance these myths interested in fixing the deficit and debt problem, as most Americans would hope, or are they conducting a bait-and-switch in pursuit of antitax advocate Grover Norquist’s quest to “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub?”
By: Chad Stone, Chief Economist at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Published in U. S. News and World Report, April 5, 2012
It was somewhere between hilarious and pathetic to watch Republicans respond to the positive jobs report last Friday. Some friends and I were counting the minutes until some Republican started casting aspersions on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles and releases the data. Sure enough, by early Friday afternoon, Tea Party Congressman Allen West was saying (on the basis of no evidence of course) that “Americans need truth, not these number games.” West’s comment suggests a desperation that will spread if future reports are as good as last week’s, which raises the question of what the Republicans will do next to try to wreck the economy.
I know, one isn’t supposed to talk like this. I know, it’s evil to suggest that politicians would put their electoral fate this fall ahead of the conditions of the people. And, I know, it’s just . . . ooooh, it’s so mean!
But the record shows clearly that all the Republican Party can do is destroy. First, Republicans destroyed the economy. We don’t speak much these days of George W. Bush, which I’ve always felt, from January 2009, was a big tactical error on the Democrats’ part. They should have been doing with Bush all this time what the Republicans did with Jimmy Carter. He was as bad a president. Actually worse. In terms of job creation, far, far worse. Check it out—Carter’s job-creation record was in fact rather enviable. So they spent eight years taking the humming economy they inherited and asphyxiating it. Bush handed Obama three huge messes—the biggest meltdown in 80 years, plus Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then Obama tries to clean up mess number one, and they do everything they can to block every step he’s taken. It’s worked pretty well for them politically because the jobless rate has been high, and as long as that was the case, they could say no, choosing whatever weapon was handy and wagging their collective finger at the president.
But what do they do now? What if the economy keeps creating 200,000-plus jobs a month? Economists, a pessimistic lot by training and nature, are now rethinking their pessimism. Just two weeks before the jobs numbers came out, the Congressional Budget Office released a report (PDF) showing, under one scenario, that unemployment would be 8.9 percent this fall and still higher in the last quarter of 2013, at 9.2 percent. These numbers received a massive amount of attention, as they fed the trouble-for-Obama story line that will yield the close election that political reporters are desperate to have. The report sent every Democrat in Washington into a funk.
But for now anyway, it’s looking as if these CBO numbers, found in a chart on page 30 at the link above if you’re interested, might turn out to be the worst prediction of 2012. After the jobs numbers came out last Friday, James Bullard, head of the St. Louis Fed, said that the Fed’s own unemployment projections—lower than the CBO’s, but still between 8.2 percent and 8.5 percent at the end of this year—now seemed too high to him, and that “sub-8 percent is a reasonable prediction.”
If the February numbers come in resembling the January ones, the whole collective psyche will change for the better, and the story line will be one of definite rebound. What will the Republicans do then? Rhetorically, they’ll feed us more of what Mitt Romney dished out Saturday night in his Nevada victory speech: “This week [Obama is] trying to take a bow for 8.3 percent unemployment. Not so fast, Mr. President. We welcome any good news on the jobs front. But it is thanks to the innovation of the American people in the private sector and not to you, Mr. President.” So Obama gets the blame when the unemployment is north of 9 percent but not the credit when it drops. Sure, guys. Keep using that one.
And the Allen West line will gather steam. The talk-radio right will start to lay into the BLS and try to discredit it. They go out and interview 60,000 households every month (plus more—read about the methodology here). They do not cook numbers. But reality never made any difference to these people anyway.
What’s more worrisome is what the Republicans on Capitol Hill will do in policy terms to try to blunt the recovery. They’re doing little things as they can manage them. Last week, the House Budget Committee approved a bill that would inflate the cost of federal programs. But what about the big things? Let’s watch what happens on the payroll tax-decrease extension the White House wants. The current reduction expires February 29. It would not exactly shock me to see Republicans start throwing new poison pills into the final negotiations.
Why? On the same “the sky is green and the grass is blue” logic that dominates today’s GOP on virtually all matters. They say publicly, as Senator Jon Kyl does in this clip, that the reduction has not had a stimulative effect. They must know that that is preposterous. Putting $1,000 back in the pocket of your average $50,000 wage earner is, economists agree, money she is likely to spend, and spent dollars are by definition stimulative dollars. They know full well that the stimulative effect of the reduction creates jobs, too. Will they really be so blatant as to try to kill it?
There are decent and honorable individual Republicans. Probably many of them. I even know some. But as a collective entity—as a party and a movement that includes the media wing and the base that boos a gay soldier at a debate and cheers executions—they are toxic destroyers, their minds infected by the idea that any cooperation with the president for the sake of the country is the moral equivalent of Munich (yes, with all that analogy implies). They will do anything. Nothing could be more just than to see a surprisingly low unemployment rate come November, with Republicans still insisting that black is white and that governance equals capitulation, and the public rewarding them accordingly.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 6, 2012