The Adult Republican Argument?

Nicolle Wallace was a senior adviser to John McCain’s campaign in 2008. She tried hard to sell Sarah Palin to non-gullible Americans and to put Palin’s muddled mind one McCain-heartbeat away from the presidency. That alone ought to keep her off TV for at least a decade. But Wallace is becoming something of a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. She gets credit, these days, for not being one of those crazy Republicans we are used to seeing on TV, like, uh, Sarah Palin.

nicole wallace on msnbcWallace represents what some in the media are fond of calling the “adults” in the Republican Party. This morning she was explaining how politically dumb it is for Republicans like Ted Cruz to insist on going all-in on defunding ObamaCare. Pay close attention to her reasoning here because it constitutes the adult thinking in the GOP:

I have a two-year-old and sometimes when he’s on his scooter he wants to cross the street even when the light is red…it is your job as the parent to hold the child and the scooter from running into traffic ’cause he would get squished. It is the job of the adults in the Republican Party to tell—there is grass roots support in this country, among Republicans, among conservatives, among Tea Party members, to do this…Obama’s health care is incredibly unpopular, so Ted Cruz is responding to what is a genuine sentiment out there. However, when Republicans run into the street, despite the fact that there’s a flashing red light, they’re gonna get hit by the cars and killed. So this is stupid politically, this is stupid at a policy level because as the great Charles Krauthammer said, it has no chance of succeeding. This is Obama’s health care law, this is Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, so they’re going to fail. 

So, we are at a moment…most of the country is pretty disillusioned with President Obama’s leadership on the world stage, a majority of Americans do not like his signature domestic achievement, which is the health care law. We’re actually at a moment, as Republicans, where even Bernie Sanders has described our party as “on the offense,” and now we’re going to let our party to run into moving traffic against a red light. It’s idiotic.

That pretty much represents what you hear from Republicans who don’t like what Cruz and other maniacs are trying to get their party to do regarding the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.

For clarification and enlightenment, let me summarize the adult Republican argument this way:

We Republicans are playing a good offensive game right now. We’ve helped make Obama look bad “on the world stage” by aggressively criticizing every move he makes, no matter what it is; we’ve exploited people’s ignorance about ObamaCare to the point where lots of Americans now don’t like the law, even though they admit they don’t know what’s in the law. That’s how brilliant we have been on this thing. A majority of Americans don’t understand the Affordable Care Act, but know they don’t like it, some even hate it, because we have aggressively attacked it night and day. So, why muck up all that good work we’ve done? We Republicans have Obama on the ropes, he’s going down on the canvas anyway, why risk pissing off the crowd now?

If you think that is a misleading characterization of the argument that Wallace and other Republicans are making, you haven’t been paying attention the last five years. Republicans have done all they can to destroy Obama’s presidency domestically, and now they take great delight in thinking that they have weakened him around the world. This is all, and I mean all, about politics, particularly crass and cynically opportunistic politics.

Nicolle Wallace didn’t breathe a word about what the shutdown of the federal government would mean to Americans, including those who work for the government and those—all of us—who depend on it for services. She never bothered to mention how damaging it would be for us to once again flirt with not paying our bills, including our creditors. She never discussed how a default would, in the words of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, be an “extremely dangerous and likely recovery-ending event.” She never noted how domestic interest rates would go up, making it hard for businesses seeking credit to expand, as well as making it difficult for consumers seeking credit to purchase cars and homes. She failed to explain how our national credit worthiness would take yet another hit at the hands of Republicans, resulting in higher financing costs for our nearly $17 trillion debt, which will then eat up more of the budget and cause Tea Party Republicans to demand even more draconian cuts in government spending—the ultimate goal of these ideological freaks.

No, all she essentially explained was that her party is doing okay right now with all the demonization of the President, all the dysfunction in Congress, and all the distrust in government these tactics have created among the American people. At such a shining moment for the GOP, she argues, Republicans shouldn’t push their luck.

That’s some adult argument.

Barack Bulworth

Last night I finally saw in graph form what the CBO came up with for its projected budget deficit for this year:

deficit 2013

As St. Rachel pointed out, this isn’t a good thing in an economy struggling to keep the recovery momentum, such as it is, going. This isn’t a good thing with so many unemployed folks out there. Nor is it a good thing with government jobs, jobs held by, say, teachers, disappearing as I write this.

But it is what Republicans, especially Tea Party phonies, have been squawking about since George Bush went on a spending spree Barack Obama became president.

And apparently no matter how far the damn deficit falls, they won’t stop squawking about it. Because, as we all know, their squawking has very little to do with government spending, but has to do with the Scary Negro, who they claim is spending it, and who they claim he is spending it on.

Remember the 2012 election charge, a charge that came from everywhere on the right, that O was trying to “buy” the election by spending a ton of money on the poor, minorities, and other natural Democratic constituencies? If so, he did a terrible job of spreading the cash around.

Maybe, just maybe, he won the election for other reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, O needs to take this chart and shove it down the throat of the next Republican who opens his or her mouth about “out of control” government spending. And then maybe he needs to rat out the Republicans—instead of eating and playing golf with them—to the American people about how phony their deficit hysteria was and still is, and explain that it is the Republican Party in Congress that is responsible for nothing, absolutely nothing, getting done to fix the country’s problems.

Finally, maybe O needs to go to many of the red states in the country and explain to the people there that the reason teachers and cops and firefighters are out of jobs, and the reason that unemployment is so high, is that their Republican governors and Republican legislators are starving the beast of their state governments, too.

And he should tell all the people everywhere that it is only the people who can put a stop to this madness.

Because no one thinks that anything positive, especially in terms of  the economic recovery, will get done while Republicans essentially control Congress. So, President Obama may as well go back to traveling around the country and, as The New York Times reported, possibly go “Bulworth.” What else can he do? How many dinners does he need to have, how many rounds of golf does he need to play with reactionaries, before he realizes that they will never allow him to actually govern the country?

For a fantasized version of what a Barack Bulworth would say, Ezra Klein wrote a great piece. Here is part of what President Bulworth had to say to a reporter who ask him yet another dumb question about whether the American people can “actually trust their government”:

BARACK BULWORTH: Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.

But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure.  And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.

Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.

Who wouldn’t want to see that guy do a presser? It would scare the tan off John Boehner’s face, but, much more important, it would educate the people as to what the Republican Party is doing to the country.

Ben Bernanke Channels Paul Krugman

I have been watching Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, testify this morning before the Senate Banking Committee.

He has sounded a lot like Paul Krugman.*

Krugman, an economist of distinction who also happens to be a liberal, has been telling anyone who will listen that all the scary talk about the national debt is misplaced, considering that we have a genuine jobs crisis going on right now.

Bernanke said this morning:

High unemployment has substantial costs, including not only the hardship faced by the unemployed and their families, but also the harm done to the vitality and productive potential of our economy as a whole.

Ya think? He also said—again sounding like Paul Krugman:

In terms of the near-term recovery, there is a sense in which monetary and fiscal policy are working at cross purposes. To some extent, the fiscal policy decisions being made are mismatched with the timing of the problem. The problem is a longer-term problem, and should be addressed over a longer time frame in a way that, to the extent possible, it does no harm to the ongoing recovery.

In other words, the actions of Congress (fiscal policy—focusing only on long-term debt) are working against the Fed’s actions (monetary policy—buying government bonds now in order to help stimulate the economic recovery) and the result of those “cross purposes” is sluggish growth and needlessly high unemployment.

Now, we have to ask ourselves: Why would congressional Republicans, who are leading the charge when it comes to ginning up fear over our long-term debt problems, want to work against the economic recovery?

You can supply your own answer to that question. Suffice it to say here that we not only have most economists in the country saying it, including Paul Krugman, we now have clearly on the record the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board saying it too: Stop worrying so much about the future and concentrate on the now. There are still a lot of folks suffering from the Great Recession.

As for the dreaded sequestration, Bernanke supported the Congressional Budget Office’s “reasonable estimate” that the automatic $1.2 trillion spending cuts due to begin on Friday will dampen economic growth in 2013 by 0.6% and cost 750,000 jobs.  He also said that, in terms of the effects on economic growth, it didn’t matter much how the cuts were made, whether judiciously or injudiciously. That’s simply too much money to extract from the economy in the short term, even though “the sequestration takes place over time” and its impact “would probably build over a period of months.”

Bernanke also made a point about the constant battles over fiscal policy, what with cliffs, sequestration, and continuing budget resolutions, which cause enormous amounts of uncertainty for everyone and which Republicans use as devilish leverage to drastically cut spending. He said:

Uncertainty itself is costly.

Yes, the uncertainty created by hostage-taking Republicans, again and again, is costly, even though no one can exactly quantify it. But I doubt even the Fed chairman, trying to talk sense to the kidnappers, will help.

Ultimately, the American people will have to send the kidnappers a message because, in our democracy, the people are, paradoxically, both the hostages and the hostage rescuers.

_______________________________

* Even though the two players have had their disagreements in the past.

Austerity Doctors Warn: If We Don’t Stop Spending We’ll Go Blind!

I have seen and heard countless Democrats, including President Obama, make the case that allowing sequestration to happen next week is bad for the country, from jeopardizing our military readiness to damaging our ability to conduct medical research.

However, none of the scary stories that Democrats tell reporters, who then tell the public, are working to change the minds of Republicans, many of whom have actually decided that sequestration is the best cure for what ails the country.

Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and a man who once chaired the Republican National Committee, is one of those Republicans—let’s call them “austerity doctors”—who want to fix the patient by hurting the patient.

National Review.com reported yesterday:

...Haley Barbour says he expects the GOP to allow sequestration to occur, and that the party should see it as an important step toward fiscal responsibility. “I hope and believe that Republicans will allow the sequestration to go into effect, so that we can start down a path of trying to get control of spending and reduce the deficit,” Barbour explained on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto…

These austerity doctors are so worried about the deficit that they are willing to do almost anything to get Americans to stop what Republicans see as our bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars.

All of which reminds me of another doctor who tried to do what he thought was right by using rather strange techniques to get Americans to stop pleasuring themselves.

John Harvey Kellogg is most famous for co-inventing the breakfast cereal Corn Flakes in 1895. But he also had a medical degree and ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he also held what we regard today as bizarre opinions about, well, I’ll let Wikipedia say it:

He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation.

Self-pleasure, according to the theologically-minded doctor, was self-destructive:

Kellogg strongly warned against the habit in his own words, claiming of masturbation-related deaths “such a victim literally dies by his own hand,” among other condemnations. He felt that masturbation destroyed not only physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well.

Dr. Kellogg thought that masturbation caused cancer, epilepsy, insanity, and, according to Wikipedia, “dimness of vision.” Yep. Keep it up and you’ll go blind.

Given the doctor’s views, something had to be done to fix things:

Kellogg worked on the rehabilitation of masturbators, often employing extreme measures, even mutilation, on both sexes. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (carbolic acid) to a young woman’s clitoris.

He also creatively applied “one or more silver sutures” to the penis in order to make erections “impossible,” therefore,

the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice.

This guy was serious:

He also recommended, to prevent children from this “solitary vice”, bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages and electrical shock.

In his Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease, for nymphomania, he recommended “Cool sitz baths; the cool enema; a spare diet; the application of blisters and other irritants to the sensitive parts of the sexual organs, the removal of the clitoris and nymphae…

In Teaching America About Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth , the authors, M.E. Melody and Linda Peterson, try to explain Dr. Kellogg’s work:

Kellogg certainly was not deluded. Part of the American tradition includes a view of a righteous God who punishes moral transgressions. In Kellogg’s view, these transgressions are acts of treason against divine governance and, hence, call for decisive responses. Though his teaching about masturbation seems extreme, the act must be understood as rebellion against divine governance, an ostensibly minor event that can, if amplified, cause the destruction of nations.

Masturbation can cause “the destruction of nations”? I remind you that Speaker John Boehner told a gathering of religious broadcasters two years ago:

Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country.

If all this is a little too much for you, good. It’s too much for me too. I share with you Dr. Kellogg’s zeal against onanism because I see a similar zeal among Republicans regarding, as I said, what they see as our national bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars. They want to stop it, and if it means using the fiscal equivalents of silver sutures and carbolic acid and cool enemas and a spare diet—the sequester—then so be it.

Meanwhile, economist Paul Krugman—who has been under fire from the austerity doctors on TV and radio and in print—has exactly the right take on the sequestration mess:

The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.

Get Serious About Getting Serious

I had high hopes when I saw this editorial in Sunday’s Joplin Globe:

Ah, I thought, the paper is finally coming around to the truth about Republicans. The editorial even included this paragraph about our future debt to GDP ratio under the various budgets proposed by the presidential players:

Under Obama’s proposal, it will rise to 80 percent by 2021. Mitt Romney’s policies would push that to 86 percent of GDP through 2021. Rick Santorum’s policy would take it to 104 percent and Newt Gingrich would have us at 114 percent, the group concluded…

In this group, Obama is the fiscal hawk, which should at least earn him some drive-by love from the Globe, which endorsed him in 2008. But nope. No love for Big O was forthcoming. But what was forthcoming was something that made the title of the editorial—”Get serious!”—seriously ironic:

Cutting taxes is the right medicine, if for no other reason than to keep it out of the hands of the spending junkies in Washington. Still, that won’t be enough — deep cuts are called for, too.

Now, it is hard to overstate the utter unseriousness behind these two sentences. The paper is saying that we should cut taxes—even though federal revenue is already at a 60-year low—andStill, that won’t be enough…” What? Without argument, without evidence, the writer, enchanted by some sort of supply-side fantasy, assumes that cutting taxes automatically results in increased revenue.

Haven’t we seen that movie enough times to know by now how it ends? Does anyone watch Gone With The Wind thinking that maybe this time Rhett and Scarlett will live happily ever after together?

In any case, the government is starving for additional revenue. We are in fact a low-tax country. Here are total federal receipts and total federal outlays as a percentage of GDP for the years 2009-2011:

YEAR               RECEIPTS            OUTLAYS

2009                 15.1                          25.2

2010                 15.1                           24.1

2011                 15.4                          24.1

Since WW II, only the years 1949 (14.5%) and 1950 (14.4%) saw years in which receipts were less than any of the above three years. And those years saw outlays of only 14.3% and 15.6% respectively.

The Globe editorial suggested that a “fundamental change” is needed “in the vision the American people have for their federal government.” No, it is not. People already have a vision for their federal government, much of which they like. What they lack is a second vision of how to pay for their first vision, and unserious editorials from the Joplin Globe won’t help them form one.

If tax increases are off the table, if tax cuts and the necessarily drastic spending cuts they would necessitate are instead offered as “the right medicine,” then the patient will never get well.

_______________________

Here are some helpful charts from the Center for American Progress:

Whose Debt Is It Anyway?

Ezra Klein, first-rate columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, published a fascinating piece today that puts the lie to the Republican charge that Obama has been a historic deficit spender.  You’ll have to go to his site to get the details, but here is the graph, which I rearranged to fit:

Debt Hysteria Housecall

A conservative Globe blogger is in serious need of some timely counsel, and, being a conscientious public servant, I am here to provide it. He commented on my recent post, Let’s Agree:

We, all of us, in America, today are facing a $65 Trillion HOLE (Ok, plus or minus a “little bit”). Said another way…each and every American is “in hock” for about $550,000 due and payable some day.

And the crazy thing is NO ONE talks about that number nor does ANYONE propose how to fix it, “on bite at a time”.

And:

Well it is possible for a man to eat an elephant. But he must do so one bite at a time. But while we all argue, the NUMBER just keeps on going up and up. THERE, Duane, is the curve that MUST be bent, NOW. Just how deep is a $65 Trillion “cliff” I wonder?

Richest nation in the world my hind foot. Not with that kind of balance sheet!!!

Anson 

Dear Anson,

Because I hate to see you in such a state, as your Doctor of Tranquility, I am offering my limited help (I’m not a Doctor of Finance, remember) in treating the unfortunate hysteria you are suffering over the issue of the alleged “65 trillion” dollar financial “HOLE” you claim the country is about to disappear into. (Or are we going off a cliff? Or eating elephants? I forget.)

You should know that people who make that frantic $65 trillion charge (or any of the other various amounts) in the way they do are using what I consider to be the accounting equivalent of junk science:

First of all, the term “unfunded liabilities” has normally been used in right-wing, fear-generating blogs and articles and Fox “reports” on this very long-term wild speculation you mention, but that term has been lately discredited (because a “liability” is more of a legal term and promises made by the government are not actually legally binding on it). I notice now many folks are using the proper term, “unfunded obligations,” which is more accurate, but still junk, when used in the kind of analysis you referenced.

To put it as simply as possible, what you are referring to with your scary high number is the difference between projected federal financial commitments under current law and the projected revenues available to cover those commitments—over a completely arbitrary time horizon of 75 years.

These obligations are not technically “debt,” since Congress is free to pass legislation that would eliminate them altogether (don’t try doing that with your debt, by the way). And it is beyond silly to say “each and every American is ‘in hock’ for about $550,000 due and payable some day.”

Second, that time horizon (did you even know what it was?) could just as well have been 750 years and that big and fat and scary number would have been even bigger and fatter and scarier. (Let me see, what comes after “trillion”?)

The truth is that no one—or almost no one—actually believes these numbers are accurate for a lot of reasons, most notably that policies and situations change quite frequently over even short periods of time (just look at budget surpluses under Clinton and deficits under Little Bush), and 75 bleeping years is sort of a long time, don’t you think?  Go back 75 years (1936?) and imagine a bureaucrat in the government, perhaps Newt Nostradamus, estimating “unfunded obligations” in 2011. It is absurd on its face.

And while we’re at it, the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees have said that

Projected Medicare costs over 75 years are about 25 percent lower because of provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act…

Do you believe that? Of course you don’t.

The reason some conservatives promote hysterical talk about such things as unfunded liabilities and use such frightening language is because they seek to dismantle or sharply reduce our social commitments and scaring the public is one way, they believe, they can do it. 

While it is true that Medicare funding is a big problem in the out years, it is not, as I demonstrated recently, an insurmountable one, if policies to control health care costs are implemented and other things are done, like, say, raising revenues.  And they will get implemented and revenues will get raised, in some way at some time. So, get some sleep and stop worrying about it, for God’s sake. (Or, if you can’t sleep, use the up time to write your favorite Republicans and urge them to get real about taxes.)

Third, there is a comparative fallacy involved in these numbers. The gap, instead of being put in the form of aggregate unfunded dollar commitments, should be put in the form of percentage of projected GDP, which would attempt to account for economic growth over the time period. That way future gaps could be more fairly compared with today’s gap.  But then those numbers wouldn’t look or sound so damn scary, would they?

Fourth, let’s look at those “unfunded obligations” in a way that conservatives won’t like.  Let’s discuss Pentagon spending in those terms.  Is defense spending an obligation? Yeah, sort of (see the Constitution). And, like Social Security and Medicare, is there a Pentagon tax dedicated to our national defense? Huh? Nope, there’s not.  So, using the analysis you are advancing, every single dollar of necessary future military spending is an unfunded obligation, right?  That means, projected over 75 years, the gap between revenues specifically dedicated to the Defense Department and the projected military spending is, well, it is more money than God, or even Mitt Romney, has!

This stuff the right-wind peddles is analytical junk, Anson.  There really are no such things as “unfunded” obligations because the government has the power to tax to meet them. And using such language in the context you and others use it unnecessarily scares people who don’t know any better, and it doesn’t help arrive at rational solutions to our very real problems with long-term debt. 

The fact is you don’t need those misleading large numbers to make the point—which nearly everyone understands by now—that some important changes in Medicare (and a tweak or two in Social Security) are necessary to keep us fiscally sound.  Indeed, distorting the picture so grossly tends to lead away from careful, reasonable solutions in favor of distinctly reactionary and irrational ones. (Of course, as I said, some folks on the right wouldn’t mind that one bit, as long as the New Deal fell victim to such panic.)

But I am under no illusion that you, in your zeal to save the country, will stop worrying and stop trying to scare the bejesus out of people because you are fixated on our debt problem and therefore welcome uncritically any analysis that generates fear over it.  And I am certain you will not now listen to,

Your  Doctor of Tranquility,

Duane

GOP DNA

I don’t want to say a lot of Tea Party Republicans are delusional, but I have to.

I was sent an email this morning alerting me to a new article on Tea Party Nation. The article began with this:

I actually pity the Democratic Party these days even though I think it has brought the nation to ruin because, as Joseph Curl recently noted in a Washington Times commentary, “Democrats must spend, spend, spend, and spend. It’s in their DNA.”

Hmm. If spending is in Democratic DNA, somehow Democrats must have impregnated George W. Bush with it. And somehow they must have fornicated with the Republicans in Congress during Bush’s first six years in office and deposited a big wad of that spending DNA, which then produced big, fat deficit babies.

Because under W. Bush and his Republican Congress—who inherited budget surpluses—we saw nearly unprecedented spending. And you don’t have to take my word for it:

During his eight years in office, President Bush oversaw a large increase in government spending. In fact, President Bush increased government spending more than any of the six presidents preceding him, including LBJ.  In his last term in office, President Bush increased discretionary outlays by an estimated 48.6 percent.

During his eight years in office, President Bush spent almost twice as much as his predecessor, President Clinton.  Adjusted for inflation, in eight years, President Clinton increased the federal budget by 11 percent. In eight years, President Bush increased it by a whopping 104 percent. 

Now, that wasn’t written by me or Barney Frank, but by Veronique de Rugy.  Here is her bio:

…a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. She was previously a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, and a research fellow at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation…She writes a column for Reason magazine and is a regular contributor to The American, AEI’s  online magazine. She also blogs at The Corner at National Review Online and at Big Government.

You can see that she has some conservative chops. Here’s more:

Between FY2002 and FY2009, discretionary spending rose 96 percent…

Some argue that federal spending during the Bush years was so high because security needs drove up the budget… Whether this is true, the overall rapid rise of discretionary spending indicates that, here too, the administration and Congress made no trade-offs in the budget. If the administration and Congress wanted more security spending and wanted to be fiscally responsible, they should have found savings elsewhere in the budget.

Wanted to be fiscally responsible“? Republicans?

Still more:

President Bush added thousands of new federal subsidy programs during his eight years in office. In 2008, there were 1,816 subsidy programs in the federal budget that spread hundreds of billions of dollars annually to special interest groups such as state governments, businesses, nonprofit groups, and individuals. The number of subsidy programs has grown by 30 percent since 2000 and by 54 percent since 1990.

Let’s turn to another source, this time McClatchy Newspapers:

George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is the biggest spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson. In fact, he’s arguably an even bigger spender than LBJ.

“He’s a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

The numbers are clear, credible and conclusive, added David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, a budget-watchdog group.

“He’s a big spender,” Keating said. “No question about it.”

Most of you know that the Cato Institute and Club for Growth are hard-core right-wing institutions, but somehow the memory of big-spending Republicans has faded and a delusion fathered by hatred of Barack Obama has taken hold of many minds on the right.

Besides the defense buildup and Homeland Security spending under Bush and the Republicans, here’s more:

Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, points to education spending. Adjusted for inflation, it’s up 18 percent annually since 2001, thanks largely to Bush’s No Child Left Behind act.

The 2002 farm bill, he said, caused agriculture spending to double its 1990s levels.

Then there was the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit — the biggest single expansion in the program’s history — whose 10-year costs are estimated at more than $700 billion.

And the 2005 highway bill, which included thousands of “earmarks,” or special local projects stuck into the legislation by individual lawmakers without review, cost $295 billion.

“He has presided over massive increases in almost every category … a dramatic change of pace from most previous presidents,” said Slivinski.

And all that is without even considering the cost of the Bush tax cuts, which are still with us and—along with other Bush-initiated spending—still doing fiscal damage that Obama and the Democrats are getting blamed for.

Let’s go back to that delusional Tea Party Nation article and read that first paragraph again:

I actually pity the Democratic Party these days even though I think it has brought the nation to ruin because, as Joseph Curl recently noted in a Washington Times commentary, “Democrats must spend, spend, spend, and spend. It’s in their DNA.”

There. I feel better.

Fussy Facts

I don’t much care for Paul Greenberg’s opinions, as regular readers of this blog know.  It’s not that he is a horrible writer or undeserving of his Pulitzer Prize. He’s a very fine writer and Columbia University is free to pass out Pulitzers to whomever it wants, especially to one who apparently was willing in the 1960s to defend civil rights in a most uncivil part of the country, the South.

There’ s just something about his tone, call it Arkansas Delta arrogance, a peculiar mix of experience-over-ideas conservatism and Southern sensibility and the kind of condescending charm that a man at war with the modern world passes off as genteel sophistication.

At least that’s how his prose rubs me.

In any case, Greenberg was at it again this morning in the Joplin Globe. After three nice introductory paragraphs about the upcoming campaign season, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote:

Some candidates eventually prove great presidents — a Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt– and win eternal honor, or at least deserve to. Others are more like Jimmy Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Now, let’s take a minute to consider those two sentences, which discredit two alive-and-well Democratic presidents and praise a long-dead one.

First the dead one: FDR is one of those Democratic presidents that even some Republican-minded folks occasionally like to praise.  Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Tea Party Republicans only because they are ignorant of his many compromises as our president, particularly admired Roosevelt’s leadership:

His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.

Or consider Reagan’s calling Roosevelt, “an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times.”

Ah, that must be what Mr. Greenberg means by praising the man who gave us America’s social safety net: Roosevelt was an American giant and inspirational leader. 

Okay. But I’ve never met a conservative Republican who had a good word to say about what Roosevelt’s domestic policies actually accomplished.  In fact, the entire modern conservative movement materialized in opposition to the New Deal and morphed into its current unseemly fanaticism while the New Deal was giving birth to its first child, the Great Society.

So, it’s hard for me, a non-Pulitzer winner, to understand what Greenberg can possibly mean by including Roosevelt in his list of “great presidents,” but I am sure he has his reasons.

And one of those reasons must be to contrast the mythical and historically sainted FDR with two of Mr. Greenberg’s favorite demon-Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Carter’s name seems to pop up whenever Greenberg needs to stick a Pulitzer-blessed screwdriver in the eye of Mr. Obama, like last summer, when he wrote:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Never mind that Greenberg, like all Republicans sympathizers, has it all wrong about Carter’s so-called “malaise speech.” (You can read why here or read the speech yourself here.)

Sure enough, Greenberg once again wielded his Obama-hater weapon, Mr. Carter’s presidency, along with the former president’s sidekick, Mr. Malaise:

The stubborn unemployment rate that refuses to subside, a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing, a Great Recession that won’t go away. No wonder there’s a sense of that old devil Malaise in the air. Again the word stagflation is heard in the land, and some of the leftier economists say a little inflation (which has a way of becoming a lot) would be a fine thing. As in the Carter years? Please.

The not-so-subtle implication here is that unemployment, the national debt, and the Great Recession are Mr. Obama’s doing. Never mind the facts; Mr. Greenberg has a job to do.

Now, this is going to be the strategy to attack Mr. Obama, as we move toward November of 2012.  Just yesterday, Jeb Bush, who received praise for telling GOP presidential candidates to stop “ascribing bad motives” to Obama, nevertheless ascribed bad policies to him:

He’s made a situation that was bad worse. He’s deserving of criticism for that.

But facts are not just stubborn things, they are eternal obstacles to the kind of revisionist nonsense that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Bush are trying to peddle.

Rather than going from bad to worse, things have gone from worse to, well, not-as-bad.

Jobs were bleeding from the Bush-sized wound in the economy (Greenberg’s “Great Recession that won’t go away”) at an alarming rate when Mr. Obama assumed office.  And it took some time to stop the bleeding and close the wound. But it did stop and the wound is healing, albeit agonizingly slow. 

And what healing is happening has come despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have en masse not only refused to help Democrats restore the economy to normalcy, but have steadfastly obstructed any efforts to do so.

And Mr. Greenberg’s “alarming to crushing” national debt is also an inheritance from Mr. Bush and years of Republican governmental malfeasance, based on unfettered free-market theology, which Greenberg enthusiastically endorsed in 2006. 

The recession is responsible for much of the ongoing yearly deficits, but particular and deliberate policies of the previous administration—those famous Bush tax cuts and wars—are also to blame for the shortfall and for the accumulation of massive debt.

Greenberg the war hawk was also an enthusiastic believer at the time in the power of the Bush tax cuts to heal the economy, all without ever mentioning the resulting deficits and debt.  In fact, I searched in vain for a bad Greenbergian word about deficits and debt under the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Even though now, in the Age of Obama, Greenberg clearly sees and writes about “a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing,”  he apparently didn’t see it as either alarming or crushing when policies that caused most of it were being debated and adopted by his fellow conservatives.

Thankfully, The New York Times, put it in a form that even a conservative columnist with a self-described disdain for the theoretical can understand:

So, Mr. Greenberg and other like-minded Obama-haters can take their shots at the current president via comparisons with Jimmy Carter and FDR, but some of us still have a working-relationship with the evidence, with those obstinate, unyielding, and fussy facts.

The Bland Bargain

As this debt-ceiling fiasco reaches its apex, it has become clear that The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden has, hopefully only temporarily, disappeared from the scene. 

In his place is a man who, well, bragged on Sunday night that one result of the bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement would be,

the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

It was once inconceivable for some of us to imagine that Obama, or any Democratic president, would utter such a statement, especially in its present context:  Tea Party arsonists, matches in hand, are about to set our economic house on fire and have even threatened to slash the tires on the fire trucks, unless the zealots get what they demand.

And it appears they will get much of what they want, if enough of them put down the matches and the gasoline and decide to take the deal.  The main thing, for them and all Republicans, is that there will be no definite revenue increases, which would have served to make swallowing the definite domestic cuts a little easier for Democrats.

The post-bin Laden Obama mischaracterized, no doubt for pre-consummation consumption, the nature of the situation when he said in his Sunday statement,

… it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America. 

Washington” imposed the crisis?  Are Republcans and Democrats—Washington—both to blame? Did Democrats threaten to start a fire that would see our economic house possibly burn to the ground?  No, of course not, and Mr. Obama knows that. He’s pointed out the true culprits many times before, the arsonists on the hard, hard Right, aided and abetted by the wobbly-kneed John Boehner and the coldly-calculating political opportunist Mitch McConnell. 

Mr. Obama obviously believes he cannot name names right now, before the thing is done, but it would have been better to say nothing at all about who imposed the crisis, if he didn’t feel free to put the blame where it belongs.  There is enough public moral confusion about this issue without the President adding to it.

He also said this:

It ensures also that we will not face this same kind of crisis again in six months, or eight months, or 12 months.  And it will begin to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.  

Well, it may not be exactly the “same kind of crisis,” but Americans will be hard-pressed to see the difference between this fiasco and the upcoming fight over the federal budget, with what will inevitably be threats of yet another government shutdown coming from Tea Party Republicans—uh, I meant, Washington. 

And that means the cloud of uncertainty will still hang over our economy and our people.

Look, I understand why Mr. Obama made this deal at this stage in the game. He feels a personal responsibility as President for the people whose economic house Republicans are so willing to burn down.  I get that, even as some on the left are calling him bad names and ridiculously claiming they will not vote for him again.

And I know why he resisted the odd constitutional options he had and the crazy talk about creating $1 trillion coins and other fantasies.  If you think this frustrating foozle has been destabilizing, imagine if Obama did what some angry liberals have been urging him to do and simply went over the heads of the Congress in order to raise the debt limit. 

In an instant, Republicans would plunge the country into a protracted constitutional crisis and the Tea Party placard-painting business—”IMPEECH THE KENYUN DIKTATER!—would be the hot buy until next November.

The problem is that Mr. Obama made a crucial decision earlier this year to move off his sensible position that using the rather habitual process of raising the debt ceiling was not the proper vehicle to achieve deficit reduction.  He wanted, and should have continued to demand, a clean debt-ceiling bill.

Perhaps he thought his past vote in the Senate not to raise it would cripple his attempt to take a principled stand on a clean bill. Or, perhaps he genuinely saw what Republicans were doing as a way of forcing them to accept some revenue increases, which was a serious misread of the zealotry that poisons the Republican Party these days.

Who knows. We’ll have to wait for the post-Administration book.

For whatever reason, Mr. Obama decided to play the politics on Republican turf and they took full advantage of the home field.  They perceived his strange strategy as a weakness and it empowered them.  His decision to play their debt-ceiling game made them stronger.

As the more ideologically-crazed Republicans appeared absolutely willing to push the country into default, Mr. Obama retreated on the one thing—tax increases—that most of us had every reason to believe was essential to any deal he would eventually make.

And now if a goodly number of Republicans support the deal, perhaps half of each caucus, then the pressure is on Democrats to take the deal, too, or risk having the disaster blamed on them.

There was a time, before the decision to meet Republicans half past halfway, when many of us were urging the President to go ahead and have his Armageddon with Republicans now rather than later: No coupling of the debt ceiling with deficit reduction. Absent that, the alternative was to stand firm on the basic principle of fairness, which requires a balanced approach—budget cuts and up-front revenue increases—to address the debt problem.

Many of us believe he could have won that fight, at least in the eyes of the American people. And if Republicans would have gone ahead with their burn-it-down scheme, then they would have sealed their political fate for a generation, and perhaps The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden would have been able to send bin Laden-like Tea Party Republicans to their proper home in the depths of a political Arabian Sea.

As it stands now, they live to plot more threats.

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