A Frothing Projo Editorial and a Much Needed Policy Reversal

House GOP vs. America” — that’s quite a headline for an unsigned editorial about the debt ceiling battle. The text below it is the sort of summary of economic assumptions and narrow conclusions about specific issues that is therefore impossible to address without revisiting every particular issue and arguing line by line.
For example, writes the editorial board:

That House Republicans, dominated by Tea Party zealots, still refuse to support raising the debt ceiling after having been offered a deal to cut $3 of spending for every $1 of new tax revenues shows a frightening willingness to wreak havoc with the American economy.

For that one, Jerry Pournelle has already provided the points that I would make:

… What’s called a cut is in fact merely a small decrease in the rate of increase, so that “cut” means spending more money. There will be a $1.1 Trillion cut spread over ten years, with a Commission of 12, 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats, to propose more cuts. If 7 of them can agree on a “cut” — which may be an actual cut but is more likely to be a reduction in the rate of increase — then both Houses of Congress have to approve the “cut”. This may amount to $2 Trillion spread over ten years, or $200 billion a year.
The government will continue to borrow $100 billion a month. That amount will go up as the deficit rises. We will then be told that gollies, we did everything we could, but it’s not working, we have to have more revenue or we are in default, give us more money. When we point out that they promised cuts and didn’t deliver, we will be told that, well, yeah, but look at that guy with the private jet over there! Tax him, tax him! Look, that company made obscene profits last year! Tax them, tax them!

But so it goes, with the Projo’s style mirroring a mouth-breathing lefty blogger rather than a respectable publication. From the above-quoted title and the term “Tea Party zealots” to putting “conservatives” in quotation marks to a declaration that it is “nonsensical” to say that letting tax cuts expire, thus increasing the amount that people pay in taxes, is… umm… raising taxes. You know, because the average American family, when plotting out its budget projections for the next decade, has already taken into account the expected increase. Right?
You do account for projected tax policy when you budget for the next decade, don’t you?
The key paragraph of the editorial is this one (emphasis in original):

[The Bush years were] years of the partly unfunded Iraq and Afghanistan wars, TARP and other bailouts and the (totally unfunded) Medicare drug benefit, among other things. New policies during Bush years, including the above-mentioned tax cuts, cost $5 trillion. New costs in the Obama administration, including the economic stimulus, totaled only $1.4 trillion.

Although the editors don’t bother citing a source for their data, it appears to come from this New York Times chart, which derives from the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Having sifted through CBPP data reports in the past, I’d suggest that we’re not looking at an objective fact, but (again) at a series of assumptions and narrow conclusions that are eminently arguable. In other words, by the time you get to a chart that broad, use of the numbers ought to be heavily qualified.
Even this idea of “new costs” illustrates the point. As the Iraq war wound down, President Obama ramped up activities in Afghanistan, yet the chart does not include any such costs. The Projo insists that letting tax cuts expire is not a “new” policy, but the chart does not appear to treat the extension of those cuts in 2010 to be an Obama-era cost.
Next consider that the Bush total is entirely actual results, while most of the Obama total entails projections. How is it possible that “health reform and entitlement changes” can possibly represent an increase of only $152 billion from 2009 to 2017? Be sure to check back on that one in 2020. And be sure to note that roughly $2 trillion of the total “new policies” derives from the failed stimulus spending of which liberals, including at least some of the Projo editors, wanted more. These are the people making righteous declarations about others’ hypocrisy?
Another choice bit of the editorial has to do with taxation in general:

Meanwhile, the Republican refusal to let some of the Bush tax cuts expire or to close tax loopholes is nothing short of delusional. Federal tax collections as a percentage of the economy are the lowest they’ve been in over six decades!

While that’s pretty much true, collections and percentage of GDP aren’t as clearly relevant as the editors imply. As the first chart here shows, since 1960, the federal tax percentage of GDP has consistently been between 15% and 20% — despite changes in tax policy and despite economic booms and recessions. Those of us who’ve been in the working world for at least 10 years will likely recognize that the two big recent dips in this data point corresponded with two economic contractions.
Indeed, it’s interesting to note that tax collections as a percentage of GDP actually increased after the maligned Bush tax cuts. (The Reagan tax cuts show a similar, though more gradual, trend.)
In the context of the debt ceiling two additional points ought to be remembered. First, government expenditures as a percentage of GDP have never been higher. Second, the “tax cuts for the rich” that President Obama insists be part of any debt ceiling deal (which gives him at least as much blame for the Projo’s “budget Armageddon” as Republicans) amount to about 15% of the Bush tax cut total — which is a point that the CBPP and Projo alike are not particularly careful about making.
I’ll agree with the Projo editors on one thing: “It’s time for Republicans to take ownership of their failed policies of the last 10 years and reverse them.” Government spending is out of control and must be reined in. Whether it results from policies implemented during the presidency of Obama, Bush, or FDR the size of government must be reduced. If anything, the House Republicans are not being stringent enough.

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BobN
BobN
10 years ago

It’s time for Americans to insist that politicians end their practice of using deceitful doublespeak to hide their fraudulent accounting practices.
A decrease in the rate of spending growth relative to a projection is not a spending cut.
A spending cut is reduction in the actual dollars spent compared to what is being spent right now. The way to accomplish one is to abolish programs, cut off subsidies, shut down unproductive government departments, and permanently lay off government employees.
Until we begin using honest language to describe the elements of the issue, we will be subjected to the same BS spin games that distort the debate now.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Can I tell my congressman that my salary was cut this year? Normally I get about a 2% raise, this year my raise was 1.75%. So my salary was cut, right?

dave
dave
10 years ago

Funny thing is that Gump repeated the Achorn editorial nearly word for word yesterday. Do you think he spoke after reading the lies or did he make them up himself?

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

They should have let the Bush tax cuts expire so the Democrats couldn’t use it to hide behind. Taxes would have gone up and woops, “How come we still have a deficit and where’s the jobs and how come we still need to raise the debt ceiling.” It would have called their bluff.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Max, wishing for the economy to have dramatically worsened is a tough way to send a message.
The Dems have no excuse. They have not put forward even a single plan for public consideration. All they do in their cowardice is criticize, in the most slanderous terms, every idea that the Republicans have offered.
Why the entire public does not condemn Obama, Reid and company is a mystery to me.
(Actually, it isn’t a mystery at all. The combination of Leftist indoctrination and general failure to educate our people to be aware and thoughtful about the res publica is an explicit strategy of the “Progressives” who control the public education system.)

chuckR
chuckR
10 years ago

So in 1941, we faced an existential threat from fascists in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo and triumphed while government expenditures were a lower percentage of GDP than today.
Where is today’s existential threat? Washington, DC and many state capitols, that’s where.
Let’s see some real cuts. Unless government workers are laid off, there can be no meaningful cuts. We need entitlement cuts too – Medicare, SS – as well as cuts in regulatory overreach.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“We need entitlement cuts too – Medicare, SS…”
Chuck, how would you cut Social Security? As it is, people can’t start collecting much until 62 or even 67. And even then, they don’t collect very much. I get my annual statement and it says that at my current pace, I’ll collect about 1/3 of my current salary.
Should that be cut? Should we simply eliminate it for all people born after a certain date?
I have a hard time seeing the difference between social security and the *concept* of state-run pensions. I know the actual execution of pensions in RI is different from social security in ways like being able to collect multiple pensions and the ability to collect much earlier. But really, what’s the difference? The government takes money from you now and gives it back to you later in retirement. Sounds like a pension system, no?
And I still think I should be allowed to privately invest at least a portion of the money I’m putting into the system.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

There is a zero percent chance of Federal employee layoffs while Democrats control the Senate and Executive Office. At least 95% of the $100k+ employees who lounge around the dozens of useless HUD, Ed., etc. Agencies are hardcore Democratic voters and donors for life. Not to mention the unions have made it effectively illegal to fire anyone. Even if you did magically see layoffs, the thousands and thousands of surly, morbidly obese GS13 and GS14 step 9 HR and admin employees who surf eBay all day and take 3-hour lunches will be the last to go thanks to union seniority rules and you’d end up firing all the young GS9s who actually do all the work and want to fix things. Why should an HR employee ever make GS13 or GS14 in the first place? They fill out forms and answer phones 4 hours a day. There are huge, systemic problems that aren’t going to be solved in a budget debate.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

There is a zero percent chance of Federal employee layoffs while Democrats control the Senate and Executive Office. At least 95% of the $100k+ employees who lounge around the dozens of useless HUD, Ed., etc. Agencies are hardcore Democratic voters and donors for life. Not to mention the unions have made it effectively illegal to fire anyone. Even if you did magically see layoffs, the thousands and thousands of surly, morbidly obese GS13 and GS14 step 9 HR and admin employees who surf eBay all day and take 3-hour lunches will be the last to go thanks to union seniority rules and you’d end up firing all the young GS9s who actually do all the work and want to fix things. Why should an HR employee ever make GS13 or GS14 in the first place? They fill out forms and answer phones 4 hours a day. There are huge, systemic problems that aren’t going to be solved in a budget debate.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Having sifted through CBPP data reports in the past, I’d suggest that we’re not looking at an objective fact, but (again) at a series of assumptions and narrow conclusions that are eminently arguable.

Let me get this straight, you’re suggesting the Bush didn’t add $5 trillion to the deficit? Of course to admit that would be to admit that it was only when Obama took office that you “conservatives” found fiscal conservative religion.
As you correctly note, the costs for Obama are estimates because most of them don’t take effect until 2014 or later. Read – the current debt is not a result of Obama’s policies.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/obamas-and-bushs-effect-on-the-deficit-in-one-graph/2011/07/25/gIQAELOrYI_blog.html

What’s also important, but not evident, on this chart is that Obama’s major expenses were temporary — the stimulus is over now — while Bush’s were, effectively, recurring. The Bush tax cuts didn’t just lower revenue for 10 years. It’s clear now that they lowered it indefinitely, which means this chart is understating their true cost. Similarly, the Medicare drug benefit is costing money on perpetuity, not just for two or three years. And Boehner, Ryan and others voted for these laws and, in some cases, helped to craft and pass them.
To relate this specifically to the debt-ceiling debate, we’re not raising the debt ceiling because of the new policies passed in the past two years. We’re raising the debt ceiling because of the accumulated effect of policies passed in recent decades, many of them under Republicans. It’s convenient for whichever side isn’t in power, or wasn’t recently in power, to blame the debt ceiling on the other party. But it isn’t true.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“President Obama ramped up activities in Afghanistan, yet the chart does not include any such costs.”
That’s a good point, but I can’t help but wonder how many of these come-lately fiscal conservatives voted against that? Yeah, sure, Ron Paul and Kucinich tried to cut that funding. One guess who shot that down…
http://www.dailypaul.com/157884/ron-pauls-bid-to-end-afghan-war-funding-blocked-by-gop-reps-whom-the-tea-party-backed

chuckR
chuckR
10 years ago

Patrick – in less than 4 weeks I’ll be 61. I would gladly accept a 1-2 year deferral of collecting SS if and only if the government civilian employment is cut by 15% and the budget is rolled back proportionately. We are all of us victims of a Ponzi scheme that dwarfs Madoff’s. The difference between the last two generations of lawmakers and Madoff is that Madoff is in jail. I’d like that money just like you would, but getting it comes at an unacceptable cost to my children and the children they may have.
For starters in cutting government, lay off 100% of the Department of Education and most of the Department of Homeland Security. I’ll take my chances at the airport – most terror attempts have been foiled by passengers, not TSA. The BATF has no unique mission and is corrupt at the top. Gone, but for minor savings. Figure out a better way to fight our losing war on all drugs and fight the serious ones. Cut the EPA off at the knees – CO2 is not, repeat, not, a pollutant. Repeal ObamaCare – it will never cost less or even do as much as private care will. Repeal the Medicare drug entitlement Bush signed into law that was never planned for or budgeted for. High speed rail – WTF? You can find all sorts of suggestions for what else has to go at Heritage or other adult think tanks. And grow the economy by simplifying and flattening the tax code. And stop handing out money to welfare case state governments like ours.

chuckR
chuckR
10 years ago

Dan
Of course we will not see government layoffs with the Dems holding the Chief Executive office and the Senate.
Every dog has his day and every pig his martinmas. Look for the elective slaughter of the pigs in 2012. Until then, Congress and Obama are all lame ducks.

Tom Parker
Tom Parker
10 years ago

Great analysis; typically distorted, lefty, mendacious nonsense from the “progessive” “newspaper of record” in Rude Island.
I read this somewhere yesterday:
“The Democrats are like the Mayan Calendar: they’re going to end in 2012.” Well said.
It’s nonesense like this from the ruling class that makes me want to move to Colorado. HOLD IT!! I did!

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“We are all of us victims of a Ponzi scheme that dwarfs Madoff’s.”
Liar, liar pants on fire!
At least that’s what Politifact says.
“Look for the elective slaughter of the pigs in 2012.”
Actually, why should we believe that? Maybe the current pigs get slaughtered but then we’ll just have a new batch of pigs. Every president grows the federal government and the federal workforce. Even Bush, even Reagan. So I have a hard time believing that if we put Republicans in charge of both sides of Congress and the White House that we’ll have fiscal responsibility. Nope, we’ll just have them spending billions on different things.
I’d love to be proven wrong, but historically, that’s the way it has happened.

chuckR
chuckR
10 years ago

Patrick
2012 isn’t the end-all. Every election, we’ll need to toss the bums out until we get a significant number who aren’t more interested in lining their own pockets than they are in the nation’s welfare. Such people do exist. I hope.
“We’ll have them spending billions on different things.” We’re out of money. If either side persists in crazy spending, a billion dollars will be like Zimbabwe dollars, which come denominated in billion dollar notes. One way or another, the jig is up.Spend your worthless trillions to no effect or stop spending on functions outside the core required. Hell, I’d gladly see the government downsized to the horrible time when Clinton was President. Better yet, to the horrible time when Reagan was President.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

It’s true. Gotta love the choices we have in America: the big government party and the *really* big government party. The Republicans increase the military to absolutely stupid levels (“conservative welfare”) to satisfy their authoritarian fetish and bomb goat herders across the world. Then the Democrats take over and increase pretty much everything. Elections are just choosing the method of our execution.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

“Every election, we’ll need to toss the bums out until we get a significant number who aren’t more interested in lining their own pockets than they are in the nation’s welfare. Such people do exist. I hope.”
That will take at least a generation of hard work. The reputation of politicians has fallen so low that most people I know are repelled by the idea of entering it. They might run for an executive position, such as governor, or mayor. But, they have no interest in a legislative position. They see that as a sordid life of compromising principles, under the table double dealing and pandering to the electorate.
I have read a little history of the Founders and Framers, they are usually portrayed as “pure”. But, look at the “deals” they had to make and wonder how “pure” the debates were. For instance slavery was opposed by most, but they could not find a means to end it. So compromise, compromise. Although the Constitution impilicitly permits slavery, the term is never used. Instead it is people “held to service or labor”.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

“Let me get this straight, you’re suggesting the Bush didn’t add $5 trillion to the deficit? Of course to admit that would be to admit that it was only when Obama took office that you “conservatives” found fiscal conservative religion.”
Russ,
Are you telling everyone that we shouldn’t allow Republicans to correct the problem because they were part of the cause. If it wasn’t for the Tea Party, Democrats would have just kept spending all the while blaming the Republicans for it.

Max Diesel
Max Diesel
10 years ago

Russ,
If you were to revisit history you will find that your so called ‘fiscal conservative religion’ was merely a philosophical reaction to the stimulus and Obamacare.

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