From the December 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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The ever-credulous Washington Post reports:
On Saturday, the Senate rejected two Democratic proposals for extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which the Republicans prefer to call "tax rates," because they have been in effect for so long.
No, that probably isn't why Republicans prefer not to use the phrasing "Bush tax cuts." It's far more likely that Republicans prefer to call them "tax rates" because they think that phrasing is likely to be more popular. There is simply no basis for the Washington Post to assign a noble motive to the Republicans. They should stick to reporting what Republicans say and do and leave the mind-reading to the professionals.
This is not a trivial matter: The Post has demonstrated a pattern of unjustified faith that Republicans believe what they claim to believe. And assigning noble or innocuous motives to Republicans who are suddenly trying to change the terminology used in the debate over controversial policy is reminiscent of the Post going along with the GOP's efforts to re-brand Social Security privatization as "personal accounts."
One other thing about the Post's tax-cut article: You won't find the word "deficit" anywhere in it. That's because, as I've noted in the past, the phrase "deficit tax-cutting" doesn't appear in news reports the way "deficit spending" does. Just another subtle way the media puts its thumb on the scale in favor of conservative policies.
With know-nothing conservative columnist Ben Shapiro pretending that deficit reduction can easily be accomplished by cutting nonexistent government funding for small art exhibits, it's refreshing to see Larry Elder take a different approach. Unfortunately, Elder's plan seems to involve selling most of Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon, and a significant portion of many other states.
Think I'm exaggerating? Here's Elder:
we need to raise money. How? Fund current and near-term liabilities by selling federally owned land. The federal government owns more than one-fourth of the land in America.
Elder didn't say who he expects to buy up 80 percent of Nevada. China, maybe?
In any case, Elder doesn't stop at auctioning off the interior West. Everything must go. He wants to sell off the Hoover Dam and "government-run nuclear and other power plants," too. Hey, what's the worst that could happen?
And Elder isn't done yet. He also wants to "shut down" the departments of Energy, Education, Labor, HUD, HHS, Interior and Commerce. Oh, and the EPA. And the IRS.
Elder also suggests a constitutional amendment limiting the federal government's budget to ten percent of GDP, which would be about $1.4 trillion -- or just about enough to cover Defense and Social Security and … well, that's it.
Still: It's refreshing to see a conservative media figure spell out exactly what they mean when they say government is too big. It's certainly more useful than Ben Shapiro's inane claims that the deficit can be reined in by cutting (privately-funded) art exhibits.
Fox News' Megyn Kelly claimed that tax cuts "on the so-called rich" increase federal revenues. In fact, tax experts and economists note that tax rates are not high enough for a tax cut to increase revenues, and President Bush's own economic advisors have said the Bush tax cuts did not raise revenue.
Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro thinks it's easy to cut government spending:
We know that it isn't tough to cut spending. This week alone, for example, the federally-funded Smithsonian Institution spent cash stocking its National Portrait Gallery with pictures of Ellen DeGeneres clutching her naked bosom, penises, and nude brothers making out -- all of this in order to show America how gays and lesbians "struggle for justice ... [attempting to] claim their full inheritance in America's promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity."
The Smithsonian does not use government money to fund exhibitions. The exhibit in question was funded by private-sector contributions. And even if it had been funded with government money, its total cost -- $750,000 -- would represent about 0.00002 percent of the federal budget. But, again, the exhibit wasn't funded by the government, which means that in arguing that it's easy to cut spending, Ben Shapiro successfully identified an exhibit that constitutes exactly 0.0 percent of the federal budget. With sharp minds like Shapiro's at work, the deficit will be gone in no time!
(In fairness to Shapiro, he does identify one other supposedly easy way to reduce the budget, complaining that the $1.25 billion in funding for "black farmers who were supposedly discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture" was an unnecessary "racial payoff by liberals to a key constituency." But, in fairness to reality, that's dumb. See, that $1.25 billion was the result of the settlement of a lawsuit, so it wasn't entirely optional. And noted conservatives like Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley pushed for it. And even if it was entirely unnecessary, it constitutes about 0.04 percent of the federal budget.)
According to National Review, Rep. Mike Pence is a viable presidential candidate because of his authentic fiscal conservatism:
Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it.
Unfortunately, National Review doesn't offer much explanation for what it means to be a fiscal conservative, though it suggests it has something to do with "voting against big-spending initiatives." But Pence supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- big-spending initiatives that contributed greatly to the deficit. And he supported the Bush tax cuts, and wants to extend them all -- that's another huge driver of deficits.
But National Review doesn't even mention the words "tax" or Iraq in its Pence profile, much less make any effort to reconcile its description of Pence as a fiscal conservative with his support for massive government spending on war and policies that run up the deficit. So I'm honestly curious: What does the National Review think it means to be a "fiscal conservative"? Is it simply opposition to government spending the National Review doesn't like?
From the November 22 edition of Fox News Channel's America Live:
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Does the Washington Post know what "consensus" means? Today's Post features a deeply flawed article by Lori Montgomery hyping the supposedly broad support for the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan. Under the headline "Consensus is forming on what steps to take in cutting the deficit," Montgomery writes "a surprisingly broad consensus is forming around the actions required to stabilize borrowing and ease fears of a European-style debt crisis in the United States." Montgomery adds:
"[T]he plan unveiled this month by co-chairmen Erskine B. Bowles, a chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, has been respectfully received with a few exceptions by both parties. Its major elements are also winning support from a striking line-up of commentators."
So, everyone's on board? Well, not quite: "Organized labor and other liberal activists say the changes would prove devastating to the elderly, particularly janitors, waitresses and other blue-collar workers … some powerful Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have rejected benefit cuts … Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said the commission's proposal to slice $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget in 2015 would be 'catastrophic' … Republicans such as Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), a commission member who is in line to chair the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, say they cannot support any plan that raises federal revenues much beyond the historic average of about 19 percent of gross domestic product. The Bowles-Simpson plan would collect as much as 21 percent of GDP." Oh, and the public doesn't prioritize deficit-cutting in the first place and is adamantly opposed to Simpson-Bowles proposals like cutting Social Security benefits.
So the "consensus" in favor of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan does not include organized labor, the Speaker of the House, the Secretary of Defense, the presumptive chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, or the American people. That's an interesting definition of "consensus."
While exaggerating support for the proposal, Montgomery allowed Alan Simpson to lash out at critics of his proposal, without quoting any in response. In fact, the entire article quotes only one word of substantive opposition to the Simpson-Bowles plan. I guess part of pretending there's "consensus" support for the plan is omitting substantive criticism of it. Also not mentioned: Criticism by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, among others, who argued that the Simpson-Bowles plan is "regressive" and "redistributes income upward." (Instead, the Post asserts that "fiscal experts say the Bowles-Simpson plan would be more gradual and less draconian than critics suggest.") Also not mentioned: Rep. Jan Shakowsky, a member of the fiscal commission who strongly disagrees with the Simpson-Bowles approach and who has produced her own dept-reduction plan.
Finally, it's worth noting that Montgomery's article kicks things off with a clear and unambiguous falsehood:
After an election dominated by vague demands for less debt and smaller government, the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals are coming into sharp focus. Big cuts at the Pentagon. Higher taxes, including those on home ownership and health care. Smaller Social Security checks and higher Medicare premiums.
Smaller Social Security checks are not "necessary" to reduce the debt or the size of government. That is simply false, and the Post should retract the claim. (You needn't take my word for it: You can head on over to the New York Times' budget calculator and see for yourself. And that tool is skewed against progressive policies.)
Viewers of Fox Business must think California is just the biggest spendthrift of our 50 states. The way Stuart Varney tells it, those greedy Californians, by taking "federal taxpayer money," are just robbing the rest of us -- particularly "the hicks who live in the Midwest" -- blind!
But in discussing California's would-be federal subsidies, Varney isn't telling the whole story. In fact, he's got it completely backward.
During the November 16 episode of Varney & Co. on Fox Business, Varney interviewed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Press Secretary Aaron McLear about Schwarzenegger's current efforts to balance California's budget. He asked McLear if he would take a pledge to "not take one more dime from federal taxpayer money going to California." Then he continues: "You guys in California, you've been making fun of...the hicks who live in the Midwest...you've been making fun of them. Now you want their money."
Incensed, McLear told Varney that "[California is] what is called a donor state. We get less on every dollar back from the federal government than any other state. States like Mississippi and Alaska get more back from the federal government for every dollar they spend."
McLear is right.
The New York Times has an "interactive deficit puzzle" that allows readers to attempt to "fix the budget" through various tweaks to spending and tax policy. There's a lot to like about the project, starting with the fact that it is an attempt to educate readers about policy rather than speculate about politics. (Bonus: No mention of the word "Palin.") And it does a good job of driving home the point that the standard talking-point approaches to the deficit won't do much: Users can choose to cut foreign aid in half, completely eliminate earmarks and farm subsidies, reduce the federal government workforce by 10 percent, cut the salaries of those government workers who remain by 5 percent, cut 250,000 government contractors, cut aid to states by 5 percent, and cut funds for the Smithsonian, National Park Service, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools -- and see that all of that combined would barely make a dent in the long-term budget shortfall.
So, that's useful. (More useful still would be a decision to never print a quote from a politician talking about balancing the budget by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse" or "foreign aid" or government payroll without reminding readers that such steps would do very little to fix the problem.)
But I have a few problems with the Times' project.
First, the choice to devote such journalistic resources to the deficit suggests that it -- rather than, say, getting the economy moving and reducing unemployment -- is the nation's most pressing economic problem. That's questionable at best -- and may be counterproductive even from a deficit standpoint. As the Brookings Institution's Henry Aaron noted in critiquing the Bowles-Simpson plan, "[P]remature deficit reduction could intensify and lengthen the recession. This is not a minor issue, as nothing more effectively depresses revenues and generates deficits than a weak economy." The Times should consider a similar project that focuses on economic growth and jobs. (Added incentive: In doing so, the Times would be giving the people what they want.)
Second, the Times package offers readers little information about the consequences of their choices. For example, readers are told they can shave $24 billion from the long-term budget shortfall by reducing the Navy's battle fleet from 286 ships to 230, and by reducing the number of fighter jets purchased by the Air Force. But I'd be shocked if one reader in a hundred has any idea what that would do to the nation's ability to meet its national defense needs -- and the Times doesn't provide so much as a hint. Likewise, the Times lets readers reduce the mortgage-interest deduction, the benefits of which "flow mostly to high-income households" -- but doesn't tell readers what "high-income" means, or offer any indication of how the reduction would affect anyone. Readers can choose to "Reduce the tax break for employer-provided health insurance," but they aren't told how those reductions would affect their tax bill. And so on.
Third, the Times tells readers "No matter what you pick, keep in mind the potential effects on economic growth. Arguably, economic growth is the most important yardstick for any plan, because growth can do much to reduce the deficit, as it did after World War II and in the 1990s." Good! But at no point does the Times help readers understand the potential effects their choices would have on economic growth. In all, the Times offers readers 40 budget changes to choose from, each with descriptive blurbs -- and not one of them makes even passing mention of the concept of economic growth. To pick just one example, readers would benefit from an indication that cuts to aid to states could have a dampening effect on economic growth, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes clear:
Cuts to state services not only harm vulnerable residents but also worsen the recession — and dampen the recovery — by reducing overall economic activity. When states cut spending, they lay off employees, cancel contracts with vendors, reduce payments to businesses and nonprofits that provide services, and cut benefit payments to individuals. All of these steps remove demand from the economy.
Fourth, the Times' project is plagued by the usual reliance on "some say … others argue" reporting that carefully avoids telling readers what is true, or giving them enough information to decide for themselves what is true. Though perhaps that is for the best: When the Times does get around to making judgment calls, the results are questionable. For example, the Times tells readers that the "most moderate" of the estate tax options is the one which taxes large estates the least. That's right: According to the New York Times, a proposal that completely exempts from taxation estates worth $4.9 million is the "most moderate" option. The Times construct suggests that the least moderate approach is to return to the estate-tax policies of the Clinton-era -- when, as you may remember, both the overall economy and the wealthy were doing just fine.
From the November 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Megyn Kelly said Fox's "brain room" had found that "federal workers' average compensation is over twice that of non-government workers," a claim also made by Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) in a video clip she aired moments before. In fact, the statistic Kelly cited is based on a discredited apples-to-oranges comparison.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Rep. Paul Ryan said the Environmental Protection Agency should be targeted for spending cuts and that EPA's budget increased 124 percent under the Obama administration. In fact, Ryan included temporary stimulus spending in that figure.
On his radio show today Rush Limbaugh played a clip of History professor Doug Brinkley warning the Republican Party away from attempting a repeat of 1995's government shutdown. Limbaugh dismissed Brinkley's warning, saying that "nobody anywhere is talking about shutting down the government" and that "they" are just trying to "frighten voters":
LIMBAUGH: You are going to continually hear that the objective is to shut down the government. It is not. There's not Newt Gingrich redux going on here. Gridlock is not shutting down the government. Nobody in the Tea Party, nobody anywhere, is talking about shutting down the government as happened in 1995. They're trying to mischaracterize and impugn people again, and frighten voters into thinking that's what you're all about. You know it isn't, we know it isn't, and they know it isn't.
From the October 22 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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