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?

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