The Great “Fiscal Responsibility” Hoax

You’re probably worried about the federal budget deficit. Seven out of every ten American voters say the deficit plays a “very important” role in deciding whom to vote for.

And you probably think that Mitt Romney is the candidate who would do a better job of reducing the deficit. In this category, voters favor him over Obama, 51 to 37. That’s a big gap, considering the national polls are a statistical tie.

Even the South Florida Sun-Sentinel believes the hype. One of the reasons they gave for endorsing Romney was to “exercise…fiscal discipline” and “get government spending under control.”

They’ve been had. You all have.

The belief that Republicans are more fiscally conservative than Democrats is an old one. It’s so deeply ingrained in the American myth that it’s hard to know where it started. But it’s completely, factually, undeniably wrong — and has been so for awhile.

In their book Presimetrics: What the Facts Tell Us About How the Presidents Measure Up On the Issues We Care About, economist Mike Kimel and journalist Michael E. Kanell calculate the change in government spending under every president from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.

They found that government spending, relative to the size of the economy, increased much faster under Republican administrations than under Democratic ones. George W. Bush presided over a greater increase in government spending than any president since Lyndon Johnson, and George H.W. Bush wasn’t far behind. Bill Clinton, in contrast, was the only president since Eisenhower to actually reduce government spending. Even Reagan didn’t do that.

Since Mitt Romney has promised to increase the Pentagon budget by $2 trillion over the next decade, I find it hard to believe that he would be any different from his Republican forebears.

Kimel and Kanell also report how the budget deficit fared under each president. Here’s where the “fiscal responsibility” myth really falls apart: The Republicans increased the deficit, while the Democrats reduced it!

The least “fiscally responsible” administrations were Bush Jr., Bush Sr., Ford, and Nixon. The most deficit reduction came under Clinton and — believe it or not — Jimmy Carter.

In fact, the only presidents in this group who added to our national debt burden were Reagan and the two Bush’s. Everyone else presided over a decline in government debt, relative to the size of the economy.

For goodness sake, they said so straight to your face.

“I am not worried about the deficit,” said Reagan. “It is big enough to take care of itself.”

“Deficits don’t matter,” said Dick Cheney.

So, when economists complain over and over and over that Romney’s math doesn’t add up, they’re not just making an academic point. When Obama asks him how he’d pay for a $5 trillion tax cut, the fact that he can’t answer — the fact that every fact-checker in the known universe has said that his tax plan will blow up the budget deficit — is a flashing red warning sign that he will do what Republican presidents have been doing for half a century.

Which brings me to his opponent, Barack Obama.

On January 7, 2009, two weeks before Obama was sworn into office, the Congressional Budget Office reported that George W. Bush was bequeathing a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion. This year, the deficit is $1.3 trillion.

In other words, 92 percent of the deficit that everyone blames on Obama was actually inherited from his predecessor.

Here are the facts: In Reagan’s first term, government spending grew 8.7 percent per year. In his second term, it grew 4.9 percent per year. Under Bush Sr., 5.4 percent per year. Under Clinton’s two terms, 3.2 percent and 3.9 percent. Under Bush Jr., 7.3 percent and 8.1 percent.

Got all those numbers? Okay. Brace yourself. Under Obama: 1.4 percent.

Our current budget deficit has nothing to do with out-of-control Democratic spending and everything to do with a massive recession, tax cuts, two wars, and a scare campaign that Republicans have been successfully waging for decades to cover up their serial fiscal irresponsibility. Whether you let them fool you again is entirely up to you.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What to Read on Newt Gingrich

Gingrich Urges War with Iran and Skyrocketing Oil Prices — Juan Cole

Gingrich: “We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy…of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it…

“We need a strategy in central Asia that recognizes that, frankly, if you’re Pashtun, you don’t care whether you’re in Pakistan or Afghanistan, because you have the same tribal relationships.

“But if we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.”

The new round of sanctions on Iran recently announced by the US, the UK and Canada have helped drive the price of Brent crude over $100 a barrel…

Oil supplies are tight, and if the US and Israel really could succeed in taking the 2.3 million barrels a day that Iran exports off the world market, on top of the Libyan reductions, it would likely put the price up to more like $200 a barrel (i.e. for Americans $6-$7 a gallon for gasoline).

The US…cannot hope to both replace Iranian production and meet increasing Asian demand with any known “all-energy” policy in the short to medium term. That is a science fiction scenario.

Iran has more than one refinery. The US doesn’t have the assets in Iran to conduct such extensive and massive “sabotage.” And, Iran could “sabotage” things right back. If he means bombing Iranian refineries from the air, that would be an act of war.

There are no [Pashtuns] in Iran or Central Asia, and Gingrich’s bizarre comments on Islam and Central Asia have nothing to do with Iran or its gasoline and petroleum production. Most post-Soviet Muslims in Central Asia are Tajiks or Turkic and are relatively secular.

As far as I can tell, Gingrich wants war with the whole Muslim world.

Newt’s War on Poor Children — Charles M. Blow

Nearly two weeks after claiming that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and implying that poor children should be put to work as janitors in their schools, he now claims…, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

[But, the fact is,] three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work.

[Most] poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty…a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas…nearly a third live with at least one working parent.

[Even] as more Americans have fallen into poverty in recent years, the crime rate over all — and, specifically, among juveniles — has dropped.

Gingrich Culls War Hawks for His National Security Team — Ali Gharib

Gingrich announced his national security team…:

  • David Wurmser: In 2007, a U.N. official called Wurmser one of the “new crazies” who wanted to attack Iran. In 1996, Wurmser co-authored a paper…advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.
  • Ilan Berman: Berman…has advocated U.S.-led regime change in Iran… [He’s] also attempted to minimize negative effects of [a military] attack and, in 2005…, said Iran is a “prime candidate” for Iraq-style pre-emption…
  • James Woolsey: Woolsey advocated for the Iraq war, supports illegal Israeli West Bank settlement construction, and now pushes a confrontational stance on Iran. In 1998, Woolsey signed onto a…letter urging the military removal of Saddam Hussein…
  • Robert “Bud” McFarlane: In 1988, McFarlane plead guilty to four counts of withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which he played a major role, even secretly travelling to Iran in the early arms-for-hostages part of the affair.

Fact Checking the Tea Party Debate: Republicans Stumble on Tax Issues — Citizens for Tax Justice

Gingrich [said] that he is “cheerfully opposed” to raising taxes by closing the sorts of corporate loopholes that benefit GE and other corporations, while also conveniently leaving out that he actually works as an advisor to GE.

Gingrich and the Destruction of Congressional Expertise — Bruce Bartlett

Gingrich said the [Congressional Budget Office] “is a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”

Most policy analysts from both sides of the aisle would say the C.B.O. is one of the very few analytical institutions left in government that one can trust implicitly.

Gingrich said, “If you are serious about real health reform, you must abolish the Congressional Budget Office because it lies.”

Gingrich did everything in his power to dismantle Congressional institutions that employed people with the knowledge, training and experience to know a harebrained idea when they saw it. When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations.

The amount of money involved was trivial even in terms of Congress’s budget. Mr. Gingrich’s real purpose was to centralize power in the speaker’s office, which was staffed with young right-wing zealots who followed his orders without question.

Sorry, Newt. You Never Balanced the Budget — Robert S. McIntyre

In fact, the budget surpluses that we enjoyed from 1998 to 2001 had nothing to do with [Gingrich’s] balanced budget act. Instead, the surpluses stemmed from a dramatic surge in federal revenues, mainly personal income taxes.

In 1993, Bill Clinton undid some of the Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy, in a bill that every Republican in Congress opposed. In the years that followed, federal revenues shot up. By 1996, the deficit had fallen by more than half from its 1993 level.

In 1998 tax revenues continued to soar… That was enough to produce a $64 billion budget surplus. …this had nothing to do with the ’97 budget act, which, because of its tax cuts, actually reduced the 1998 surplus slightly.

How Newt Gingrich Added $16 Trillion to the National Debt — Bruce Bartlett

According to the latest Medicare trustees report, the unfunded liability of Medicare Part D is $16.1 trillion.

[Just before Congress voted on Medicare Part D], Newt Gingrich [wrote in the] Wall Street Journal: “Every conservative member of Congress should vote for this Medicare bill. […] If you are a fiscal conservative who cares about balancing the federal budget, there may be no more important vote in your career than one in support of this bill.”

The Republican Candidates’ History on Mandates — Sarah Kliff

Newt Gingrich has repeatedly supported the mandated purchase of health insurance… “I agree that all of us have a responsibility to help pay for health care,” he told “Meet the Press” earlier this year.

Newt Gingrich’s Doctoral Dissertation — Robert Paul Wolff

“Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960 A Dissertation Submitted on the Sixth Day of May, 1971 to the Department of History of the Graduate School of Tulane University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Newton Leroy Gingrich.”

There is no evidence in the text that he traveled either to Belgium or to the Congo, and he seems not to have interviewed any of the principal actors, Belgian or Congolese, even though the dissertation was written only a handful of years after the departure of the Belgians from the Congo.

Colonization is seen almost entirely from the perspective of the colonial power, not from that of the indigenous population. The rule of King Leopold II, who literally owned the colony as his private property until, at his death, he willed it to Belgium, is widely understood to have been the most horrifyingly brutal colonial regime in Africa. Gingrich acknowledges this fact once in the dissertation.

Why Don’t We Just Rearrange the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

This expression is taken to mean: To do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.

Both the Democrats and the Republicans have found it to be convenient to borrow now and pay it back later.

It’s difficult for a “film salesman” like me to hypothesize what our country’s financial situation would be, had we not been involved in wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, or spent as much as we have spent for F-35’s and F-22’s and such. I also wonder what would have happened to our once great nation, had we taxed the rich a little more in order to “pay as we go.”   Continue reading “Why Don’t We Just Rearrange the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?”