Monday, January 28, 2013

Debt, Deficits and Austerity: The Credulous and The Credible

Once great Washington Post Kaplan Daily editorial page editor and prominent austerity fan Fred "Pain For Thee, Tax Breaks For Me" Hiatt, quoting President Obama from 4 years ago:
"...Obama has said the national interest requires both revenue increases and reform of entitlement programs."

“'The real problem with our long-term deficit actually has to do with our entitlement obligations and the fact that historically if our revenues range between 18 and 20 percent of GDP, they are now at 16,” the president told the Post editorial board in January 2009. “We’re going to have to shape a bargain. This, by the way, is where there are going to be some very difficult choices, and issues of sacrifice and responsibility and duty are going to come in, because what we have done is kicked this can down the road. We’re now at the end of the road. And we are not in a position to kick it any further.'”

"In a phone interview with me later that year, the president added: “It may start with Social Security because that’s, frankly, the easier one.'”

Let us introduce Fred to E.J. Dionne, same page, same day:
"The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit."

"Let’s call a halt to this madness. If we don’t move the economy to a better place, none of the fiscal projections will matter. The economic downturn ballooned the deficit. Growth will move the numbers in the right direction."
Hiatt's views are an example of the credulous Beltway-think that has gone on for at least the past 4 years: the Simpson-Bowles worshipers, the "serious thinkers" who are almost always late to the realization that their long-held serious thought has, at the very least, been overtaken by events. Note how he quotes Obama's 4-year-old prescription of sacrifice approvingly (not that we're not for "sacrifice" -- we just prefer it be evenly distributed and only when it's going to solve a real problem rather than undermining faith in government as a protector of the vulnerable).

Meanwhile, Dionne points out that there's an emerging counterweight to the austerity chorus that's been dominating economic policy discussions here and abroad. Austerity has been a disaster in Europe and would effectively halt the recovery that's been slowly building here over the past 18 months. That, of course, is what the Rethuglican agenda really boils down to: it's not the deficit, stupid -- it's dismantling the progressive social safety net and diminishing the Obama legacy. Too bad Hiatt and his fellow Beltway chin-strokers have a deficit of insight (or honesty) and can't see that.

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