Saturday, September 15, 2012

In Which I Shovel Against the Tide

OK, I'm a bit partisan at times. But I am also a small-d democrat. I would like to see the electoral process work. So it is depressing to see the sheer level of evasiveness and deception in the Romney campaign. Even the evasions contain new deceptions. Perhaps this is by design: either you correct the deceptions, or you persist with the original question. No one has the energy to do both.

Thus, this report from

When we asked the Romney campaign for more information on his plan to balance the budget, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom sent us this statement:

Fehrnstrom: Governor Romney has balanced many budgets over his career, in private business, at the Olympics and in government. His track record speaks for itself. President Obama doesn’t even have a budget. Before Obama’s election, America had never run a trillion dollar deficit. Since Obama’s been in office, we’ve had four trillion dollar deficits in a row.
So, we’re left to wonder how spending possibly could be reduced in the next decade to balance the budget. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which has liberal leanings, ran the numbers in May and found that, assuming Social Security is not cut, all other non-defense programs would have to be cut by 29 percent in 2016 and 47 percent in 2022, if the cuts were spread evenly across the board — and if Romney’s tax plan was revenue-neutral. has chosen the second strategy, to persist with the original question. This runs the risk of implicitly accepting all the claims in the evasion. Let's unpack Fehrnstrom's claims.

Governor Romney has balanced many budgets: State governors running for national office are always making some variant of this claim. "I balanced the budget X years in a row" is popular. Journalists sometimes point out that state governments are required by law to balance their budgets, so that doing so may not indicate exceptional frugality.

But this misses a larger point, that the budgets they are balancing are not comparable to the Federal budget. States are required to balance their operating budgets, but not their capital budgets for long-lived investments. The Federal government makes no distinction; long-lived investments are just lumped in with everything else. How much easier would it be to balance the budget if long-lived investments were not included? Capital investments are not a huge part of the Federal budget, but they would normally include things such as military equipment and weapons, highways, land purchases, and possibly scientific research. Say $300-400 billion a year.

President Obama doesn't even have a budget: The Obama Administration did indeed submit a budget to Congress this year, the usual fat book.  The President is not in charge of passing a budget, Congress is. A key role is played by the chairman of the House Budget Committee, who is currently Paul Ryan.

Before Obama's election, America had never run a trillion-dollar deficit: I had thought this was merely a deception based on the difference between the date of Obama's election and the date of his inauguration, but it turns out to be factually untrue. The first trillion-dollar deficit, and still the largest deficit in US history, was for the fiscal year that began in October of 2008. (No, the stimulus bill of 2009 was only a small part of that.)

That's a lot of mendacity for one short paragraph. Who has time to keep up with it?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Some Missing Pages From Obama's Speech

"Republicans often accuse me of not believing in 'American exceptionalism.' Well, I believe America is an exceptional country. My own life is testimony to the truth of that.

"Where I differ from Republicans is that they seem to believe that we can be exceptional just by saying we are. I think that being exceptional is hard work. Previous generations did that work for our benefit. Now a lot of people who claim to be concerned about future generations think we should just shirk our responsibilities.

"For example, Americans' deep belief in individual liberty and individual responsibility led us to establish free public education in this country, first at the elementary and then at the secondary level. And we established state universities and the G.I. Bill, to make college education feasible for millions of people who would never have had that opportunity otherwise. As a result, we had exceptionally well educated workers, and that is one of the reasons America became an economic powerhouse and a land of opportunity.

"Today, local governments are being forced to lay off teachers, state governments are raising tuition at universities, and Federal tuition assistance has lagged far behind college costs. Do we think we can continue to be an economic powerhouse and a land of opportunity if that keeps up?

"Or take infrastructure. Government has an important role to play in making sure that we have good transportation systems to knit this country together and lower the cost of getting goods to market. Americans have always understood this, from the Erie Canal in 1825 to the interstate highway system begun under President Eisenhower.

"But today there are more than sixty thousand state and interstate bridges, and almost another eighty thousand city and county bridges, that are rated structurally deficient or obsolete. Overall, the total infrastructure backlog in this country is more than $2 trillion. Do we think we can continue as the world's most powerful economy without taking action on this? The work will have to be done sooner or later. The best time to do it is when we have large numbers of workers and large amounts of capital sitting idle, as we do now.

"The truth is, the Republican path, of empty boasts and unnecessary wars, of paying lip service to future generations while making no investments, is not what made America great. That path is the path to American decline."