“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
“A Warped Prism”: Sequestration And How The “Liberal Media” Keeps Blaming Obama For Republican Behavior
Reading what has now become a cavalcade of Beltway pundits, led by New York Times writers, denouncing President Obama for failing to avoid the drastic budget sequestration, and berating him for not “leading” by getting Republicans to abandon their chronic intransigence, I keep thinking back to the earliest days of Obama’s presidency when the press concocted new rules regarding bipartisanship.
Specifically, I recall a question NBC’s Chuck Todd asked at a February 2009 press briefing as the president’s emergency stimulus bill was being crafted in Congress. With the country still reeling from the 2008 financial collapse, and the economy in desperate need of an immediate stimulus shot in the arm, Todd asked if Obama would consider vetoing his own party’s stimulus bill if it passed Congress without Republican support.
Todd wanted to know if Obama would hold off implementing urgent stimulus spending in order to a pass different piece of legislation, one that more Republicans liked and would vote for, because that way it would be considered more bipartisan.
I mention that curious Todd query because only when you understand the warped prism through which so much of the Washington, D.C. press corps now views the issue of bipartisanship does the current blame-Obama punditry regarding sequestration begins to make sense, even remotely.
Here’s what the prism looks like, and here’s what it’s looked like for the last four years: Blame Obama for Republican obstinacy. (Or, as a backup: Both sides are to blame!)
And remember, most of the pundits currently taking misguided aim at Obama on sequestration are part of the supposedly “liberal media” cabal, the one that conservatives insist protect Obama at any cost.
As key observers have noted in recent days, the facts on sequestration are not in dispute: Obama has made repeated offers to meet Republicans in the middle with a proposed deficit reduction plan built around a mix of spending cuts, reform to entitlement programs, and revenue increases. Republicans have countered by saying they will not agree to any deal that includes revenue increases. In terms of “leading,” Obama has done everything in his power to try to fashion a deal with Republicans. In response, the absolutist GOP has refused to move off its starting point; it’s refused to move at all. (Hint: They wanted sequestration to occur.)
So, because Obama, who just won an electoral landslide re-election, wasn’t willing to concede to Republicans everything they wanted, the sequester impasse was reached and $85 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts went into effect. From those facts, too many pundits have rushed in to blame Obama. Why him? Because he hasn’t been able to change Republican behavior. He wasn’t able to get them to agree to a bipartisan solution.
Question: If you’re an obstructionist Republican and the press blames Obama for your actions, why would you ever change your obstructionist ways? Answer: You wouldn’t. And they haven’t.
Remember, the recently concluded confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel becoming Secretary of Defense wasn’t just about the Republicans’ unprecedented opposition to the cabinet choice. It was also about the press’ ongoing refusal to acknowledge the GOP’s radical obstructionism. A refusal that simply encourages more of the same destructive behavior.
Not surprisingly that theme now runs through the sequestration coverage, as pundits and commentators do their best to downplay those obstructionist tactics in order to clear a way at their real rhetorical target: Obama. (Notable exceptions are appreciated.)
My sense of déjà vu on the sequester media mess is especially intense. I noticed this same trend 49 months ago:
If Republicans simply do not want to cooperate in any meaningful way with Democrats, is there anything Obama can do to change that? No, not really. But according to the press, Obama — and Obama alone — is supposed to change that mindset.
For four years this nonsensical narrative about how it’s up to Obama to change the GOP’s conduct has been promoted and celebrated inside Beltway newsrooms. And now all the savvy pundits agree: Republicans’ obstinate ways created the sequestration showdown, so that means it’s Obama’s fault. By failing to lead, by failing to change Republican behavior, Obama must shoulder the blame.
As noted though, the agreed-upon sequester facts are not in dispute. So in order to blame Obama for Republican obstructionism, pundits have been inserting boulder-sized caveats to their illogical writing that ultimately points the finger at the president [emphasis added]:
“And, of course, it is true that much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base.” (Bill Keller, New York Times)
“We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans.” (David Ignatius, Washington Post)
“The great debt-ceiling crisis of 2011 was initiated entirely by the Republicans refusing to do anything.” (Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast)
“Most Republicans in Congress have been utterly irresponsible in this debate.” (Washington Post editorial).
But never mind all that. It’s Obama’s fault that Republicans are the “pigheaded” “culprits” who “initiated entirely” the “utterly irresponsible” debate over sequestration.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, May 5, 2013
The very first post at FactCheck.org referenced that great line from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but not their own facts.”
During the years I spent at FactCheck, I certainly wittnessed my share of politicians trying to make up their own facts. And while I wasn’t allowed to say this at the time, it was always pretty clear (to me, anyway), that one side was making up a lot more facts than the other. Republicans have happily embraced half-truths and outright falsehoods. From “Death Panels” to climate change denialism to the austerity discussion to Paul Ryan’s budget math, the GOP appears to have embraced a policy of Making Stuff Up.
But now it seems that conservatives’ War on Facts has entered a new phase. If the facts are against you, just stop collecting them.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, has introduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from collecting data about the economy.
That’s right. The bill would require that the Census Bureau stop collecting the information that economists use to calculate (among other things) the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate, housing construction rates, trade deficits, and much more.
So you might well be saying, “This sounds like a pain for economists, but why should I care if a bunch of stuffy economists are inconvenienced?”
The answer is that without this information, it will be impossible to tell how much any legislation coming out of the Congress costs.
When the Congressional Budget Office calculates the cost of a particular piece of legislation, they have to have something to compare it against. They do this by calculating a budget baseline—that is, they look at how much the federal government will spend and how much revenue it will collect under current law. It’s that last part that’s important here.
To know how much money the government will collect in taxes, you have to know a lot of things about the economy generally. Much of this is incredibly complicated, and a whole lot of extremely smart CBOers spend hundreds of person-hours each year trying to produce an economic forecast. Not being an economist, I can’t tell you exactly what goes into all of those models, but I do know one thing for sure. If you want to know how much tax revenue you’ll collect, you pretty much have to know how many people have jobs.
But, then, if you’re just planning to make up your own numbers anyway, you probably don’t much care whether the CBO has the data it needs to produce accurate estimates.
By: Joe Miller, Director of Digital Communications, Century Foundation, The National Memo, May 2, 2013