A favorite maxim of Vice-President Joe Biden’s is: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
President Obama proposed a budget that is a reflection of his values today. This puts considerable pressure on Republicans.
They will pass their own budget resolution, which does not have the force of law, does not require Obama’s signature and will not involve any compromises with Democrats. (It’s only practical value is in creating guidelines for the Appropriations subcommittees to draft the various spending bills that do have the force of law.)
The congressional budget will be the pure Republican id, and it will have to deal with being compared to Obama’s vision.
Are congressional Republicans ready to have an honest debate between to competing visions for America? Nope. Just bogus attacks that try to kick up enough sand so we can’t have an honest debate.
Below are the big four attacks you can expect to hear more of, and why they’re bogus.
Bogus Attack #1: No Practical Ideas
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman tried to dismiss every proposal with a wave of the hand: “The president said in his State of the Union that the proposals in his budget would be filled with ideas that are ‘practical, not partisan.’ Turns out that’s not the case.”
So the entire Obama budget is “partisan” because it encompasses his own ideas, and doesn’t compromise before the negotiation starts?
What then, would Sen. McConnell call all the House Republican budgets drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, for which nearly every Republican voted, including himself? Not even Ryan ever described his ideologically pure budget as “nonpartisan.”
And when Democrats squared off against the Ryan budget, they engaged its ideas, and sought to defeat them in the court of public opinion on the merits.
Here’s an interesting fact: just because your party didn’t come up with an idea and doesn’t like an idea, does not mean it is not a practical idea.
If Republicans think that free community college, universal access to early education and child care, expanded paid family leave, a tax credit for working spouses, a more robust tax credit for low-income workers are not practical ideas, then they can make the case.
But that would require acknowledging that those ideas exist, which raise their profile among voters, who may end up actually liking them — and liking them a lot more than whatever the Republican axe chops up in its upcoming budget.
Also of importance: some of these ideas even have Republican roots. Obama’s community college plan was inspired by a similar program in Republican Tennessee. Obama’s Earned Income Tax Credit expands on an anti-poverty program Reagan heartily embraced.
Bogus Attack #2: Doesn’t Balance The Budget
“Like the president’s previous budgets, this plan never balances – ever,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
It’s also ridiculous to treat a balanced budget as if it is proof of a good budget. There have only been 12 balanced federal budgets in the last 84 years. Some of those 72 unbalanced years were good ones! Whereas we had a balanced budget in 1929, which didn’t do much to prevent a Great Depression.
Boehner’s comment is intended to make the President’s budget sound fiscally irresponsible, but the opposite is true. Keep in mind that we actually have a very low and manageable annual deficit right now, 2.8 percent of GDP as of 2014 and the proposed plan would stabilize the deficit around 2.5% of GDP. To compare, the deficit-obsessed Simpson-Bowles commission wanted to hit 2.3 percent in 2015.
Well what about accumulated debt? Right now it’s at 75 percent of GDP, which on one hand is the highest since the post-WWII era, but on other hand is only the 36th highest globally since all of the developed world has added debt in reaction to the 2008 crash. Even the austere Germans have a higher debt-to-GDP ratio than the US. (The least indebted country is Liberia, want to trade economies?)
Obama’s budget trims accumulated debt slightly to 73.3 percent by 2025. Irresponsible? Consider that in the 2013, our friends Simpson and Bowles proposed a plan to cut it to 69 percent in 2023.
If Boehner wants to propose a budget that cuts deeper and brings the budget into balance, he is certainly welcome. But the public will judge if the specific cuts he proposes are more or less responsible than the deficit and debt levels in the Obama budget.
Bogus Attack #3: Obama Is Undoing All The Republicans’ Hard Work!
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy attacked the lack of budget balance by arguing, “despite the best efforts of Republicans over the past four years to rein in spending and cut the deficit, this budget would erase all those gains over the ten year budget horizon by increasing the deficit and adding even more to the debt.”
First, while Republicans are welcome to take credit for the sequester cuts which contributed to today’s low deficit, you can’t pretend that Obama’s success in crafting the most progressive tax code in 35 years had nothing to do with it.
Second, as explained above, Obama is not increasing the deficit and adding more debt when those amounts are calculated as a share of GDP, which is the most relevant gauge — your debts are only a problem if you don’t have an economy that can produce the income needed to cover your obligations.
Bogus Attack #4: Obama’s Budget Will Worsen Inequality
Rep. Ryan attacked Obama’s ideas for higher capital gains and inheritance taxes as “envy economics.” On Meet The Press, he said “This top-down redistribution doesn’t work. We’ve been doing it for six years. Look, it may make for good politics. It doesn’t make for good economic growth.”
Actually, it can be good politics and good economics. Let us not forget that it was only 2013 when we last hiked taxes on the wealthy, and our last three quarters have produced solid economic growth, the best growth we’ve had since the 2008 crash that followed giant tax cuts for the wealthy. At minimum, higher taxes on the wealthy is not a wet blanket on economic growth. (You would have thought that the economic growth that followed Bill Clinton’s tax increases would have put this argument to bed.)
While Ryan is slamming higher taxes on the wealthy, to the New York Times he had the chutzpah to say, “The wealthy are doing really well. They’re practicing trickle-down economics now.”
Come again? The whole Republican argument against higher taxes on the wealthy is that it stops the wealthy from using their wealth to grow the economy.
Now we have proof that higher taxes on the wealthy does not stop them from increasing their wealth … so by Ryan’s logic, higher taxes on the wealthy helps the wealthy and hurts the poor.
Republicans may be trying to obscure the debate now. But soon, they will have to produce their own budget resolution, and then they will have to pass spending bills to keep the government open by September 30th. They will have to make proposals, with hard numbers attached to them. If they want to cut deeper, they will have to say what they are cutting, and defend it from certain Democratic criticism.
Eventually, Republicans will have no place to hide. For their own sakes, they better be ready.