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CHAIT CHAT (PART 4)! What ever happened to Candidate Bush? Your “press corps” is too scared to ask:


PRESIDENT FLIP-FLOP: So let’s 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 aren’t my projections,” he says—they 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 Chait’s 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 Chait’s TNR cover piece gives an excellent view of the clowning. But we’ve saved the largest question for last—the 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 Institution’s Bill Gale and Peter Orszag have noted, the nation is far less equipped to handle a deficit than it was 20 years ago…[W]e’re now 20 years closer to the retirement of the baby-boom generation than we were in the Reagan years. We should be using this time—after the economy recovers, anyway—to 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 let’s make one thing crystal clear—Chait’s 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 Chait’s view at that time. That includes the mainstream press—and, 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 he’d 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 we’d 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? We’ll let Chait review it:

CHAIT: Although no one talks about it much, this year’s $400 billion (or more) deficit comes on top of the administration spending the Social Security surplus in its entirety—restraint has dwindled.
Let’s make sure we understand what this means. Throughout the campaign, Bush said that none of that SS surplus would be spent. That’s 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! It’s 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. Bush’s actual program has little to do with the picture he drew during Campaign 2000. As a candidate, Bush didn’t say the silly things he says now. He didn’t say that he’d keep cutting taxes in order to produce increased revenues. He didn’t say he’d present a new tax cut every single year he held office. As a candidate, Bush painted a pleasing portrait—one that fit the press corps’ CW. Now, he’s flip-flopped, and he clowns in their faces. Cowards, they pretend not to notice.

CHAIT CHAT: Enjoy all four incomparable installments. And study Jonathan Chait’s helpful article:

CHAIT CHAT, PART 1: Bush is still lying, TNR’s cover says. Chait has some prime Grade A groaners.

CHAIT CHAT, PART 2: Reagan cut taxes and revenues soared! This foofaw is spread around daily.

CHAIT CHAT, PART 3: What really happens when tax rates are cut? Sometimes, cons come out and tell you.

CHAIT CHAT, PART 4: Whatever happened to Candidate Bush? Your press corps is too scared to ask.

THEY REPEAT, YOU DECIDE: Who will ask about Bush’s 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 don’t 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 Garrett’s 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 Washington’s 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 GOP’s spin:
HUME: There’s talk of a new economic stimulus package on Capitol Hill. For more, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports.

CAMERON: The class warfare is on. And Democrats who largely opposed the tax cut that president recently signed into law now want a tax break for working Americans who don't even pay income taxes.

“The class warfare is on,” Cameron instantly said, repeating prime spin of his net’s masters. We’re sure Cameron gets a nice pay-check from Fox. How much does the RNC pay him?

The Daily update

SEND IN THE CLOWNS: Hillary Clinton’s book is leaking, and major pundits are rubbing their thighs. Judy Woodruff chatted with hapless Vince Morris on yesterday’s Inside Politics:
WOODRUFF: Well, with me now to talk more about Senator Clinton’s book is Vince Morris. He’s 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?

MORRIS: I think someone dropped it in their laps. I think someone who is allied with Senator Clinton and felt that titillating the public with one small part of the book five days before it’s published would be a great way to gin up interest and maybe get people to go out and buy it and certainly for people in the media to write about it.

So you’ll know, Morris seems to be twelve years of age. Even Woodruff felt she had to take note of the scribe’s obvious guesswork:
WOODRUFF: But that’s speculation, right, on your part? You don’t know that for sure?

MORRIS: Not at all. Not at all. And I’ve asked the AP. I’ve asked Simon & Schuster. And I asked Senator Clinton. And so far, no one is saying how the book excerpt ended up at AP.

“Not at all,” Morris affably said. He’d asked the AP, and they wouldn’t tell. And so he just said what he “thought.”

Morris didn’t 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.