Free Markets, Free People

debt commission


Budget buzz–Obama’s effort seems to be unpopular on both sides of the political spectrum (update)

All sorts of coverage on the Obama budget, most of it negative.  While the White House spin machine works overtime to attempt to fashion a message saying the effort confronts the harsh fiscal reality we’re faced with and makes tough cuts and decisions, that’s not the way others are interpreting it.

Andrew Sullivan figured out Obama’s budget is a very political one:

But the core challenge of this time is not the cost of discretionary spending. Obama knows this; everyone knows this. The crisis is the cost of future entitlements and defense, about which Obama proposes nothing. Yes, there’s some blather. But Obama will not risk in any way any vulnerability on taxes to his right or entitlement spending to his left. He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash. If I were Alan Simpson or Erskine Bowles, I’d feel duped. And they were duped. All of us who took Obama’s pitch as fiscally responsible were duped.

Uh, yeah.  And it only took 3 years for Andy to figure it out. Speaking of the Simpson Bowles commission, Sullivan cites a David Brooks column where Brooks talks about a group of Senators who are taking the lead in writing up the recommendations of the commission for implementation. Says Sullivan of the effort:

They have to lead, because this president is too weak, too cautious, too beholden to politics over policy to lead. In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.

Lovely to see someone else finally realize that leadership is something this president knows nothing about, never has exercised and wouldn’t know how to do with a self-help book in front of him.  And, as Sullivan correctly surmises, this atrocity of a budget is firm proof of that (and no that doesn’t mean I endorse the Simpson Bowles commission – the point is about leadership).  Sullivan also finally ferrets out that the commission was nothing more than an artifice the president used to cover his rear and make it appear like he was focused on doing something about the fiscal shape of the UFederalSpending0471.002-thumb-440x330S government.  Instead we get exactly what those of us who’ve been on to this president’s act all along expected – pure politics.

John Hinderaker at Powerline gives graphic proof (left) that the media water carriers who are parroting the White House line about the President’s budget containing “steep” or “painful cuts” aren’t fooling anyone.  As you can see the only steep incline over the next few years is up.  There is nothing significant about any “cuts” or “savings” the Obama budget puts forward on the overall level of government spending except to keep the slope headed in a direction we can’t afford.

Instead it is more of the same simply couched in the same old obfuscating rhetoric that calls spending “investment” and taxation “savings”.  Someone needs to get the point across to Obama that the smoke and mirrors company in which he’s so heavily invested isn’t working for him anymore.

In fact, just to make the point even more evident, take a look at this chart by Doug Ross.  The yellow line you see (right) are the “steep” and “painful cuts” the president and some of the media are trying to pretend his budget is making.   Tough stuff, no?  No.  His steep and painful cuts are a veritable drop in the bucket and really do nothing structurally to actually cut spending to affordable and sustainable levels.  As Rep. Paul Ryan has said, Obama “punted” with this budget.110214-budget

Megan McArdle thinks, given this budget by the president, that it may finally be time to panic.

I was a laconic hawk when the deficits shot up in 2008, 2009, 2010.  A few years of deficits in an unprecedented crisis weren’t going to kill us; we had time to get them under control.

But I’m starting to think that it’s time to panic.  This deficit is $700 billion higher than the CBO projected in August 2009, of which $500 billion is lower tax revenues, and $200 billion is new spending.  It’s also $500 billion less revenue and $100 billion more spending than the CBO was expecting as late as August of last year, thanks to the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  For all that I keep hearing about deficit reduction and PAYGO rules, somehow those "fiscally responsible" Democrats have given us the largest peacetime deficit in history, one that keeps growing beyond all expectations–and for all their alleged worries about the budget deficit, so the Republican role in all of this has been to goad Democrats into cutting taxes even further, so that the wealthiest earners could enjoy their fair share of our collective fiscal insanity.

I know the arguments for stimulus, but at this point, I don’t think we can afford the luxury of a more stimulating economy.  Our politicians can’t be trusted to do the right thing later; we need to make them do it now.

I can’t emphasize that last sentence more.  If ever there was a time to do what is necessary to take a knife to the bloated government budget, it is now.   The public is as much on board as it will ever be and while it may whine and even scream and holler about some thing’s, most of the voters in this country know something pretty drastic must be done and done soon.

Even “Johnny one-note” Paul Krugman isn’t happy – for the usual reasons:

Andrew Leonard is right: the Obama budget isn’t going to happen, so in a sense it’s irrelevant. But it still has symbolic meaning. What is Obama saying here?

The important thing, I think, is that he has effectively given up on the idea that the government can do anything to create jobs in a depressed economy. In effect, although without saying so explicitly, the Obama administration has accepted the Republican claim that stimulus failed, and should never be tried again.

My favorite line in the Krugman piece was this:

What’s extraordinary about all this is that stimulus can’t have failed, because it never happened. Once you take state and local cutbacks into account, there was no surge of government spending.

Remember, what was spent was about $300 billion more than Krugman recommended.  But if it never happened I assume Krugman will now quit attempting to say that the trillion dollars which was thrown out there to stop the fall and stimulate growth did it’s job, right?  That was his previous stance and all that was needed was more spending to have an even greater effect.  Correct?   Now he’s in the middle of rewriting history:

Yes, I know, it’s argued that Obama couldn’t have gotten anything more. I don’t really want to revisit all of that; my point here is simply that everyone is drawing the wrong lesson. Fiscal policy didn’t fail; it wasn’t tried.

MIA – a trillion dollars.  Yeah, it “wasn’t tried”, was it?  About the nicest thing Krugman can muster to say about the Obama budget (in another article) is it isn’t the Republican budget:

It’s much less awful than the Republican proposal, but it moves in the same direction: listening to the administration, you’d think that discretionary spending, not health care, is at the heart of our long-run deficit problems — and you’d also think that the job of rescuing the economy was done, with unemployment still at 9 percent.

It could be worse — the GOP proposal is — but it’s hardly something to cheer about.

Well, we’ll see how much either is to cheer about when we take a look at the Republican budget.

Finally, to inject a little humor into a basically humorless debate – even if the humor is unintentional – read Jonathan Chait’s piece in The New Republic.  You get the idea he was on his third or fourth scotch and up late when he wrote it.  It is the journalistic equivalent of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and coming up with an ugly fuzzy pouch that smells like bacon.  Even his title points to a very tentative approval, something he had to talk himself into in order to make the attempt:  “Why Obama’s Budget Is OK”.   And while some of his points are valid (the president’s budget is a political document) how he got from some of his observations to some of his conclusions can only be explained by booze and sleep depravation.

UPDATE: Steve Eggleston has a good post up full of charts that makes the point with the government’s own numbers that Paul Ryan was right yesterday – “doing nothing would be better than passing [Obama’s] budget”.

~McQ


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 14 Nov 10

In this podcast, Bruce Michael and Dale discuss the debt commission.

Due to sound quality problems, the podcast for this weeks is available at BlogTalkRadio, rather than as a local download.

Observations

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Irony– liberals not happy with deficit commission report because liberals “not at the table”?

Seriously – that’s essentially the Matt Yglesias take on the recommendations published by the co-chairs of the president’s debt commission:

I’m not surprised that liberals don’t like the Simpson-Bowles proposals and I’m not surprised that people who aren’t liberal disagree with liberals about that. But I am surprised that there are people out there professing to be surprised that liberals are hostile to the proposal. But what are liberals supposed to think? It’s a proposal hashed out between a conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat. So of course liberals don’t like it. Imagine the conservative reaction to a deficit proposal written by Lincoln Chaffee and Russ Feingold.

Or instead of a hypothetical, how does Yglesias think the GOP would feel about a health care law written only by Democrats? To use his words, “if you want Republicans to like a deal, you need to invite Republicans to the table”. The irony, however, seems to have escaped him.

That’s not to say that pursuing a conservative-moderate deal was a bad idea. Self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a large margin and moderates are a much bigger force in the Democratic coalition than in the Republican one. So if you want a deal, appointing an orthodox conservative Republican and a moderate Democrat from North Carolina makes a lot of sense. But it also makes sense that liberals won’t be happy with the results.

But when the GOP was unhappy with the health care law, it was because they hated poor Americans and were the lackeys of the insurance companies, right?

~McQ


Debt Commission–harsh medicine?

The chairs of the Obama Debt Commission – charged with putting a blueprint together to reduce the deficit and put the government’s finances on sound footing – have released their preliminary recommendations.   And their recommendations are, as most who have monitored this situation should know, harsh.  Of course they must be – because the government has spent itself into a position where harsh and drastic measures are both necessary and called for.

Expect those that compose much of that government, at least on the left, find such austerity “unacceptable” in the words of Nancy Pelosi (whose PAYGO has been so instrumental in preventing this situation from being worse /sarc).  Before we get into the recommendations, let’s get one thing clear:

Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.

That’s $4 trillion from a projected $10+ trillion in projected deficit spending over the next 8 years.  So we’re still talking about years of deficit spending.  And not one dollar will come off the debt – it will only “stabilize” it.

The point is that if doing what is necessary to cut the deficit spending of the next 10 years by 40% is “unacceptable”, imagine what any solution given to tackle the debt will be.  Paul Krugman calls the recommendations “unserious”. 

Really?  Is there anyone out there who doesn’t understand that there is absolutely nothing “unserious” about the problems we face or the fact that to solve them drastic spending cuts are necessary?   Krugman is apparently incensed that the recommendations involve 75% spending cuts and 25% tax increases (the tax increases are essentially the elimination of deductions, the lowering of taxes across the board and the broadening of the tax base).

But how in the world do you stop deficit spending if you don’t drastically cut spending itself?

The commission chairs recommend cuts or changes is all areas – entitlements, defense, non-discretionary spending, discretionary spending.  Some thing sure not to please anyone.   For instance, they recommend raising the retirement age on Social Security for future retirees, as well as cutting benefit increases.  In defense, their goal is 100 billion in cuts.  As I’ve said before, defense cuts can be made and should.  Just so it is fat and not muscle that goes.

The plan is harsh medicine for the minority that believe that government is the answer to everything.  And, as you’ll see (just watch) they will fight these recommendations tooth and nail.  Republicans, on the other hand, have reacted cautiously.  I’m not sure why.  They’ve talked about cuts in spending and simplifying the tax code for years.  Here’s a commission talking about both and recommending they be done.

Politics, fingers in the wind, and ideology begin to emerge.  What the chairmen have done is taken the discussion from a nebulous “we’d like to see spending cuts” to “put up or shut up” with specific recommendations.

It is going to be instructive to see how both parties and the president react.  It is the latter, in particular, I’m interested in watching:

Mr. Obama created the commission last February in the hope it would provide political cover for bold action against deficits in 2011. His stance now, in the wake of his party’s drubbing, will go a long way toward telling whether he tacks to the political center — by embracing such proposals — or shifts to the left and leaves them on a shelf.

Anyone – who votes for “leaves them on the shelf?”

~McQ

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