Media Unwittingly Plays Republicans' Deficit Game ... Again

Thursday, 20 January 2011 13:28 By Paul Krugman, Truthout | name.

Media Unwittingly Plays Republicans

Who could have seen this coming?

The Washington Post editorial board was shocked (shocked!) to discover in early January that incoming congressional Republicans aren’t serious about deficit reduction.

“You could listen to their rhetoric — or you could read the rules they are poised to adopt at the start of the new Congress,” they wrote in a Jan. 2 editorial. “The former promises a new fiscal sobriety. The latter suggests that the new G.O.P. majority is determined to continue the spree of unaffordable tax-cutting.”

By “fiscal sobriety,” I imagine The Post was referring to a Republican policy that basically requires lawmakers to offset any new spending by cutting other programs or by raising revenue, not by raising taxes. Of course, The Post was supportive of the deal President Obama struck with Republicans at the end of 2010 to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans (which means a revenue loss of $3.9 trillion over 10 years, according to the United States Treasury Department), calling it an achievement “to be celebrated” in an editorial on Dec. 23. This achievement to be celebrated is now called unaffordable tax-cutting less than a month later.

I was going to be snarky, but this requires seriousness: the gullibility of much of the media establishment in the United States regarding this issue is ridiculous. Their inability to spot the hollowness of Republican claims to fiscal responsibility amounts to journalistic malpractice.

Republicans have been the party of fiscal irresponsibility since the 1980s. As if to confirm that unfunded tax cuts had become part of the party’s D.N.A., President George W. Bush’s administration convinced Congress to pass the first round of cuts in 2001.

Then along came a Democratic president who presided over two years of deficits in the immediate aftermath of a severe financial crisis — which is the time when governments are supposed to run deficits. Republicans began to warn against the evils of red ink (repent or you’ll turn into Greece!), and, incredibly, the media took those warnings at face value. Top Republicans even started declaring that while deficits were terrible, there was still no need to offset the cost of the tax cuts. Yet these people were portrayed as deficit hawks. It is is simply stunning.

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Why were journalists and commentators so blind? I suspect it had to do with their desire to seem neutral. In order to show how even-handed and open-minded they were, journalists felt that they had to find Republican fiscal heroes. Reporting that the whole deficit debate was a political ploy, lacking any substance, would have sounded shrill.

But the truth often does. 

Backstory: Governing Agenda

When Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, they promised to cut the $1.3 trillion federal deficit by reducing spending. But according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, Republican lawmakers have proposed a series of policies that will, in fact, strain public coffers further.

The most expensive item on the Republican agenda is a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. The tax cuts — which are set to expire in 2012 — favor the wealthiest Americans, who benefit the most from reduced taxes on capital gains, dividends and estates.

One of Republicans’ first moves this month was to change House anti-deficit rules so that existing tax cuts could remain in place: to account for new spending, legislators cannot increase taxes.

This makes the tax cuts effectively indefinite, which could add about $3.9 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to the Treasury Department.

House Republicans also plan to repeal the Obama administration’s new health law — a move that the nonpartisan C.B.O. predicts will eliminate $230 billion in cost savings and add a similar amount to the deficit through 2021. But House Republicans have flatly rejected the C.B.O.’s numbers, claiming that they exclude $115 billion in implementation costs and count some tax increases twice.

With regard to the C.B.O.’s evaluation, Republican Representative Tom Price of Georgia told The Hill newspaper on Jan. 7, “we’ve got to get a new system, a new way to be able to determine how much programs are actually going to cost.”

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Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed page and continues as a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University. He was awarded the Nobel in economic science in 2008.

Mr Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes, including "The Return of Depression Economics" (2008) and "The Conscience of a Liberal" (2007).

Copyright 2010 The New York Times.

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Last modified on Thursday, 20 January 2011 13:28