Sunday, April 19, 2009

Double standards on taxes

Last post on Tea Parties, I promise.

Former Reagan official and economist Bruce Bartlett has some wise words on debt and deficits:
...many protesters implicitly assume that that the deficit has increased solely as a result of Barack Obama's policies. But in fact, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a deficit of more than $1 trillion this year back in January, before any of Obama's policies had been enacted, and a cumulative deficit of $4.3 trillion through 2019. (CBO made no assumptions about what his policies might be in making its projection.)

It's true that projected deficits have gotten larger since January. But much of this resulted from deteriorating economic conditions that would have occurred even if John McCain were president. Moreover, it is absurd to assume that McCain would not have enacted any stimulus programs had he been elected.

More than likely, McCain would have proposed a stimulus plan of roughly the same size as that proposed by Obama. No doubt, it would have had a different composition--heavier on tax cuts, different kinds of tax cuts, less spending, different spending--but it wouldn't have been all that different from Obama's package given large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and the pressure to act quickly.

I strongly suspect that many of those that loudly denounced the Obama stimulus package for its impact on the deficit would have cheered the McCain stimulus package even though it would have increased the deficit by about the same amount.

Proof of this proposition is that there were no tea parties during the years when George W. Bush was turning the surpluses of the Clinton years into massive deficits. Indeed, if concerns about deficits are the primary motivation for this week's tax protests, then these same people should have been holding demonstrations of support for Bill Clinton in 2000 when the federal government ran a budget surplus of 2.4% of the gross domestic product--equivalent to a surplus of $336 billion this year.

The truth is that the greatest addition to national indebtedness occurred in 2003 when Bush rammed through the Republican Congress a massive expansion of Medicare to provide drug benefits even though the system was already broke. According to the latest report from Medicare's trustees, the drug benefit added $7.9 trillion to the nation's indebtedness. This should have led to massive tax protests on April 15, 2004. But, of course, there weren't any. Those protesting this week were only protesting because it is a Democrat who has increased the deficit. When a Republican did worse, it's like Emily Litella used to say, "Never mind."
I'm not saying that because a Republican ran up debt, it's OK for Democrats to do it as well. But I think there are some serious misconceptions about how much the Obama administration's policies change the debt situation. First, much of the current increase in the deficit is the result of decreased tax revenues, which are the result of a bad economy. Second, the Bush administration bequeathed a number of policies that would increase the debt far enough after he left office.

We do need to get serious about government debt. But that means getting serious about health care reform, since Medicare will be the biggest cause of rising debt in the future. The current conversations are largely a diversion.

Read the whole Bartlett piece, especially his conclusion:
People should remember that while they have the right to their opinion, they are not entitled to be taken seriously. That only comes from having credibility gained by the correct presentation of facts and analysis and a willingness to be even-handed--criticizing one's own side when it is wrong and not only speaking up when the other party does the same thing.

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