The Deficit Is Down By Half but Politifact Says It’s Growing

Dave Johnson

The blogosphere is talking about how Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor was caught in an outright falsehood about the country’s deficit, and how PolitiFact backed him up. Cantor said Sunday that Congress should be “focused on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit.” Fact: the deficit is shrinking faster than any time since the end of WWII, and is down 50% from where Bush left it. But PolitiFact declared Cantor’s lie “half true.” Fact: the deficit is down more than 50% from where Bush left it. Fact: the deficit is falling at the fastest rate since the end of WWII. This chart is from my February post, Deficit Is Falling Dramatically, But Only 6% Know That: (Note, the 2009 budget was Bush’s last budget year, before the “stimulus” kicked in.)

PolitiFact excuses Cantor for saying the country’s “ultimate problem … is this growing deficit” because even though the deficit is shrinking rapidly, at some point in the future deficits might maybe perhaps start to grow again. Or not. Steve Benen writes about Cantor and PolitiFact at the MaddowBlog, PolitiFact finds its pants on fire, (click through, there are links in the text)

What Cantor said was the opposite of the truth — he said the nation has a “growing deficit,” when in reality, we have a shrinking deficit. We can have a discussion about whether the House Majority Leader was deliberately trying to deceive the public — Republicans have an incentive to convince the public that U.S. finances are in worse shape than they really are — or whether Cantor simply doesn’t know the basics of current events. But I’m afraid it’s either one or the other. Unless, that is, you’re PolitiFact.

Atrios declared Politifact “Wankers of the Day“. Why This Is Crucially Important At The Plum Line Greg Sargent explains why this is so important,

… if you look back at the transcript of Cantor’s full remarks, you’ll see that the House Majority Leader explicitly cited the deficit as justification for the GOP’s current policy posture. Right after citing the “growing deficit,” Cantor went on to suggest that this is why Republicans will stage a confrontation over the debt ceiling this fall. … Elsewhere in the same interview, Cantor cited the deficit as the reason Republicans would insist that the sequester cuts be replaced with only entitlement cuts, describing entitlements as the “real problem” we face. Dems, by contrast, want to replace the sequester with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts — including to entitlements. But the GOP position is it must only be replaced with spending cuts — which Cantor here justifies with an allusion to the deficit.

This is just crucially important. Republicans are threatening to shut the government and take the country into default this fall because they say we have a deficit emergency, when in fact the deficit is falling at the fastest rate since the end of WWII. If we base our country’s economic policy on something that is just backwards, then the results of doing that will be backwards for the country. In other words, it will cost us jobs and wages and factories and industries and our future instead of helping those things. Sargent then makes the key point that this is part of a deception:

The bigger story here is that Republicans have persuaded the base that the push for the lowest spending levels possible is akin to a moral crusade, a higher calling whose urgency must never be questioned. This idea is incompatible with the notion that the deficit is falling, even just in the near term. The current GOP posture is premised on a whole series of falsehoods about spending, ones designed to obscure the facts that Dems have already made major concessions on spending, and that Obama has steadily offered Republicans some of the very entitlement cuts they themselves have asked for. The notion that the deficit poses an urgent and immediate threat is central to this larger ongoing deception.

Paul Krugman — yes, Paul Krugman is a blogger, too — explains just how much this idea of rising deficits is backwards and harmful, in PolitiFact and the Shape of the Planet, Deficit Edition,

The crucial point here, however, isn’t just that Cantor said something unequivocally false. It is that he said something that gets the whole story upside down. The central fact at the heart of any rational fiscal debate right now is that deficits are coming down fast, even as the economy remains depressed. The sharp decline in deficits means that the medium-term debt outlook is no longer remotely scary; indeed, even if you project out to 2030 it doesn’t look too bad. At the same time, sharply reducing deficits in a depressed economy, with interest rates up against the zero lower bound, looks like extremely bad macro policy. So that’s what we should be discussing: do we want deficits coming down this fast?

Benen concluded his post, “I suppose my follow-up question for PolitiFact is this: what incentive do political leaders have to tell the truth when you tell the public their patently false claims are “half true”?”

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