Tag Archives: fiscal responsibility

The Flim-Flam Party

David Leonhardt had an interesting column on fiscal responsibility recently in the  New York Times.

“Fiscal responsibility” is one of those terms the applicability of which depends upon its definition. (I define “fiscally responsible’ as paying as you go, so putting a new government program or a war on the national credit card in order to keep current tax rates low wouldn’t qualify.) Conventional wisdom is that Republican administrations have been more fiscally-responsible than Democratic ones. Leonhardt questions–and debunks–that belief.

By now, nobody should be surprised when the Republican Party violates its claims of fiscal rectitude. Increasing the deficit — through big tax cuts, mostly for the rich — has been the defining feature of the party’s economic policy for decades. When Paul Ryan and other Republicans call themselves fiscal conservatives, they’re basically doing a version of the old Marx Brothers bit: “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Ever so slowly, conventional wisdom has started to recognize this reality. After Ryan’s retirement announcement last week, only a few headlines called him a deficit hawk. People are catching on to the con.

But there is still a major way that the conventional wisdom is wrong: It doesn’t give the Democratic Party enough credit for its actual fiscal conservatism.

Aided by charts illustrating his thesis, Leonhardt points out that, at least for the last several decades, Democratic administrations have reduced the deficit, while Republican administrations have grown them. Democrats have done that by raising taxes, by cutting military spending and by reducing corporate welfare.

Some of them have even tried to hold down the cost of cherished social programs. Obamacare, for example, included enough cost controls and tax increases that it’s cut the deficit on net….Get this: Since 1977, the three presidential administrations that have overseen the deficit increases are the three Republican ones. President Trump’s tax cut is virtually assured to make him the fourth of four. And the three administrations that have overseen deficit reductions are the three Democratic ones, including a small decline under Barack Obama. If you want to know whether a post-1976 president increased or reduced the deficit, the only thing you need to know is his party.

So why is it that the “conventional wisdom” does not reflect this reality? Leonhardt faults  journalists’ devotion to the idea of “balance,” and their ingrained belief in (false) equivalence. There is a hard-to-dislodge conviction that–whatever the misbehavior–both parties must be equally guilty.

I’ve spent 25 years as a journalist and have repeatedly seen the discomfort that journalists feel about proclaiming one political party to be more successful than the other on virtually any substantive issue. We journalists are much more comfortable holding up the imperfections of each and casting ourselves as the sophisticated skeptic.

As he concludes,

The caveat, of course, is that presidents must work with Congress. Some of the most important deficit-reduction packages have been bipartisan. The elder George Bush, in particular, deserves credit for his courage to raise taxes. Some of the biggest deficit-ballooning laws, like George W. Bush’s Medicare expansion, have also been bipartisan. In fact, the Democrats’ biggest recent deficit sins have come when they are in the minority, and have enough power only to make an already expensive Republican bill more so. The budget Trump signed last month is the latest example.

So it would certainly be false to claim that Democrats are perfect fiscal stewards and that Republicans are all profligates. Yet it’s just as false to claim that the parties aren’t fundamentally different. One party has now spent almost 40 years cutting taxes and expanding government programs without paying for them. The other party has raised taxes and usually been careful to pay for its new programs.

It’s a fascinating story — all the more so because it does not fit preconceptions. I understand why the story makes many people uncomfortable. It makes me a little uncomfortable. But it’s the truth.

Truth, of course, hasn’t been faring so well in our post-fact, “fake news” world….



Fiscal Responsibility Doesn’t Look Like This

The White House recently announced that the federal budget deficit will fall to 583 billion this year. That’s the smallest deficit since Obama became President, and it continues a widely-ignored trend of falling deficits during his tenure.

If you listened to the Republicans, you’d never know that the debt and deficit have both been declining (if you listened to Faux News, you wouldn’t know the difference between them), and you’d certainly get the impression that the GOP is the party watching out for the public purse. That impression would be wrong.

Very wrong.

The Washington Monthly notes that

The Republican House just voted for an inexcusable $287 billion supply-side corporate tax giveaway:

The GOP-led House of Representatives embraced a former stimulus measure Friday, voting to make it and another related tax cut permanent, adding $287 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

The largest part of the cut, worth more than $263 billion, is making permanent so-called bonus depreciation, which allows businesses to write off the cost of capital investments and improvements much more quickly.

It was enacted twice during the administration of President George W. Bush, and the most recent version expired last year. The idea behind it is that if lawmakers give businesses a break during tough economic times, they will speed up major equipment purchases and stimulate economic activity.

Those who support making such a stimulus measure permanent argue that it would give businesses the certainty to be able to plan their investments. But opponents — primarily Democrats — mocked the idea, pointing to Congressional Research Service reports that found the break was a weak stimulus to begin with, and that the stimulative effect is likely to fall even further if the break becomes permanent.

Not only is the GOP not party of fiscal responsibility, it has become the pro-redistribution party–a reverse Robin Hood cabal intent upon taking from the poor to give more and more to the rich. (Except, of course, when there is an advantage to doing otherwise.)

Welfare for the well-off. Bupkis for the poor. Welcome to dystopia.



Fact Checking and Alternate Realities

One of the stereotypes firmly embedded in the nation’s political psyche is that of the “tax and spend” Democrats. The taken-for-granted “reality” of American politics pits these profligate lefties against fiscally prudent conservative Republicans.

As with all stereotypes, this one has roots in reality. When I was young, Democrats were leftwing big spenders. And Republicans were fiscally responsible. (Those Republicans would never have waged a war and cut taxes at the same time, to use just one example.) The problem with stereotypes, however, is that they persist long after the reality that generated them has changed.

Which brings me to the reality-challenged charge by Mitt Romney and his minions that the Obama Administration has spent money like drunken sailors, a charge echoed by partisans on the Internet, Faux News and other outlets that have long since abandoned even the pretense of fact-checking and/or objectivity.

The charge has now been pretty decisively debunked by no other than the Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing publication.

The Journal reports that, even taking into account the massive stimulus spending during Obama’s tenure, overall federal spending has been rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s. In fact, according to the article,  “Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.”  The article includes a nifty graph, and hyperlinks that will lead skeptics to the official sources of the information presented.

Not only has spending barely increased in present dollars, after adjusting for inflation, the Journal reports that spending under Obama is falling at a 1.4% annual pace — the first decline in real spending since the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was retreating from the quagmire in Vietnam.

Why level a charge so demonstrably untrue? Because people will believe it. It feeds into a persistent stereotype, and the “legacy media” that could formerly be relied upon to provide fact-checking has been displaced by lazy “he said/she said” reporting and partisan spin.

Repeat a big lie often enough, and you’ll be amazed at how widely it will be accepted.


Greg Ballard’s Curious Approach to Fiscal Discipline

There has been a good deal of discussion on local blogs about our Mayor’s ham-handed approach to the just-concluded Gay Pride celebration.

The Indianapolis fire department has participated in the Parade previously, and this year, IMPD announced that it, too, would participate–and show that our local police serve all parts of the Indianapolis community. The day before the Parade, Ballard unexpectedly reversed course, and told IFD it could not use a city fire truck, and IMPD that it could not officially march at all.  (Several members of the police department did march, in uniform, but in their “individual” capacity, and the department’s Hummer was nowhere in evidence.)

Yesterday, Mayor Ballard was interviewed by Amos Brown, who asked an entirely appropriate–and foreseeable–question: why had the Mayor prevented the police from driving an official vehicle in the parade? The obviously bogus response was that the decision was made in order to save tax dollars. It had nothing to do with the fact that this was a gay event, or that Micah Clark and the Indiana Family Institute pitched a fit about the symbolism of treating the gay community like all other taxpaying citizens. Nope–just being fiscally responsible.

I asked a friend of mine who is a police officer whether IMPD officially participated in other community celebrations, and he rattled off a list: St. Patrick’s Day, Veterans Day, Black Expo and several others. I guess those constituencies must be more deserving of the tax expenditures involved.

And that brings up an interesting question: just how many dollars are we talking about?

What is the cost of vehicle depreciation and gasoline during a trip down Massachusetts Avenue? Ten dollars? Five?

Yesterday, the media reported that the Ballard administration stands to lose a three-million-dollar Federal grant, because it hasn’t complied with the grant’s staffing requirements. This makes Ballard the poster child for “Penny wise, pound foolish.”