THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 2003
PRESIDENT FLIP-FLOP: So lets see. President Bush keeps cutting taxes because he wants to bring in more revenue. And those upbeat projections by the Council of Economic Advisers? Those arent my projections, he saysthey come from a lot of smart economists. Meanwhile, why do the tax cuts phase in over time? That was done by the Congress, Bush says. And, to enjoy another Grade A groaner, search Chaits piece for one last claim. The dividend tax cut? That cut is all about helping the elderly, the president comically says.
Surely, Zeus great halls must rock with laughter as the gods gaze down on our budget debates. For mere mortals, Jonathan Chaits TNR cover piece gives an excellent view of the clowning. But weve saved the largest question for lastthe question the press corps refuses to ask. Late in his piece, Chait explains why growing deficits are especially problematic at this juncture:
CHAIT: Unfortunately, as the Brookings Institutions Bill Gale and Peter Orszag have noted, the nation is far less equipped to handle a deficit than it was 20 years ago [W]ere now 20 years closer to the retirement of the baby-boom generation than we were in the Reagan years. We should be using this timeafter the economy recovers, anywayto pay down the national debt and prepare ourselves for a big fiscal shock. Running deficits now is like an aging couple running up their credit card debts just as they get ready to retire.Retirement of the baby boomers will put stress on future budgets. We should be paying down debt, Chait says, to prepare for the challenge ahead.
Not everyone agrees with that proposition. Some economists on the left disagree with this general view, as do some on the right. But lets make one thing crystal clearChaits position has long been conventional wisdom in Washington, among the press as well as mainstream pols. It was overpowering conventional wisdom as recently as Campaign 2000. Indeed, almost everyone agreed with Chaits view at that time. That includes the mainstream pressand, yes, Candidate Bush.
As a candidate, George W. Bush paraded about, vowing to pay down debt. Like Candidates Bradley, McCain and Gore, Bush pledged to use Social Security surpluses ($2.4 trillion over ten years) for Social Security only. During most of the campaign, that seemed to mean that hed use those surpluses to pay down federal debt. (Later, he quietly said that he might use $1 trillion of the $2.4 trillion to set up private accounts in SS.) And why had Bush set his proposed tax cut at $1.3 trillion? Because that was all we could afford, he said, or else wed have to spend SS dough. Bush had counted every penny. $1.3 trillion was all we could manage.
But that was then, and this is hijacking. Bush got his $1.3 trillion in 2001; passed another small tax cut in 2002; and has just passed another cut which will likely cost $800 billion over ten years. His agents say more tax cuts are coming. And everyone knows that the Alternative Minimum Tax will have to be fixed; that will cost hundreds of billions more. Meanwhile, what else is happening while these tax cuts proceed? Well let Chait review it:
CHAIT: Although no one talks about it much, this years $400 billion (or more) deficit comes on top of the administration spending the Social Security surplus in its entiretyrestraint has dwindled.Lets make sure we understand what this means. Throughout the campaign, Bush said that none of that SS surplus would be spent. Thats why his tax cut could only be $1.3 trillion. Now, the entire SS surplus is being spent (plus an extra $400 billion this year)and he keeps trying to cut taxes more! Its time to go searching for Candidate Bush. Someone else seems to be in the White House.
No one talks about it much, Chait says. And that is surely an understatement. Bushs actual program has little to do with the picture he drew during Campaign 2000. As a candidate, Bush didnt say the silly things he says now. He didnt say that hed keep cutting taxes in order to produce increased revenues. He didnt say hed present a new tax cut every single year he held office. As a candidate, Bush painted a pleasing portraitone that fit the press corps CW. Now, hes flip-flopped, and he clowns in their faces. Cowards, they pretend not to notice.
CHAIT CHAT: Enjoy all four incomparable installments. And study Jonathan Chaits helpful article:
CHAIT CHAT, PART 1: Bush is still lying, TNRs cover says. Chait has some prime Grade A groaners.THEY REPEAT, YOU DECIDE: Who will ask about Bushs reinvention? Not that gang at Special Report. In recent days, their budget reporting has been pure propaganda. On Tuesday night, for example, Major Garrett reported on current budget battles in congress. Midway, he spoke with Rick Santorum, who voiced a prime RNC spin-point:
SANTORUM (6/2/03): Democrats play the game of class warfare, which is trying to take from some to give to others.Dems are playing class warfare, he said. But on Fox, you dont have to wait for Republican senators if you want to thrill to this GOP spin-point. Here was the increasingly egregious Brit Hume as he introduced Garretts report:
HUME (6/2/03): There were efforts in the House and Senate today to offer refundable tax credits to certain low-income families Resurrecting the tax credits has become a political football in Washingtons seamlessly endless class warfare debate over taxes. Fox News correspondent Major Garrett reports.Omigod! Brit called it class warfare too! But then, viewers got to hear the pleasing point last night too. This time, reporter Carl Cameron played Charlie McCarthy, mouthing the GOPs spin:
HUME: Theres talk of a new economic stimulus package on Capitol Hill. For more, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports.The class warfare is on, Cameron instantly said, repeating prime spin of his nets masters. Were sure Cameron gets a nice pay-check from Fox. How much does the RNC pay him?
The Daily update
SEND IN THE CLOWNS: Hillary Clintons book is leaking, and major pundits are rubbing their thighs. Judy Woodruff chatted with hapless Vince Morris on yesterdays Inside Politics:
WOODRUFF: Well, with me now to talk more about Senator Clintons book is Vince Morris. Hes a Washington correspondent for the New York Post. Now, Vince Morris, any idea how the Associated Press got hold of this book that everybody else would have liked to have gotten hold of?So youll know, Morris seems to be twelve years of age. Even Woodruff felt she had to take note of the scribes obvious guesswork:
WOODRUFF: But thats speculation, right, on your part? You dont know that for sure?Not at all, Morris affably said. Hed asked the AP, and they wouldnt tell. And so he just said what he thought.
Morris didnt have a clue. But a mountain of clowning will land on your head as the press corps pretends to review this new book. Get ready! Low mordant chuckles will be offered here as the press makes a joke of your discourse.