|Four Fiscal Phonies|
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Mitt Romney is very concerned about budget deficits. Or at least that’s what he says; he likes to warn that President Obama’s deficits are leading us toward a “Greece-style collapse.”
So why is Mr. Romney offering a budget proposal that would lead to much larger debt and deficits than the corresponding proposal from the Obama administration?
Of course, Mr. Romney isn’t alone in his hypocrisy. In fact, all four significant Republican presidential candidates still standing are fiscal phonies. They issue apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of government debt and, in the name of deficit reduction, demand savage cuts in programs that protect the middle class and the poor. But then they propose squandering all the money thereby saved — and much, much more — on tax cuts for the rich.
And nobody should be surprised. It has been obvious all along, to anyone paying attention, that the politicians shouting loudest about deficits are actually using deficit hysteria as a cover story for their real agenda, which is top-down class warfare. To put it in Romneyesque terms, it’s all about finding an excuse to slash programs that help people who like to watch Nascar events, even while lavishing tax cuts on people who like to own Nascar teams.
O.K., let’s talk about the numbers.
The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget recently published an overview of the budget proposals of the four “major” Republican candidates and, in a separate report, examined the latest Obama budget. I am not, by the way, a big fan of the committee’s general role in our policy discourse; I think it has been pushing premature deficit reduction and diverting attention from the more immediately urgent task of reducing unemployment. But the group is honest and technically competent, so its evaluation provides a very useful reference point.
And here’s what it tells us: According to an “intermediate debt scenario,” the budget proposals of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney would all lead to much higher debt a decade from now than the proposals in the 2013 Obama budget. Ron Paul would do better, roughly matching Mr. Obama. But if you look at the details, it turns out that Mr. Paul is assuming trillions of dollars in unspecified and implausible spending cuts. So, in the end, he’s really a spendthrift, too.
Is there any way to make the G.O.P. proposals seem fiscally responsible? Well, no — not unless you believe in magic. Sure enough, voodoo economics is making a big comeback, with Mr. Romney, in particular, asserting that his tax cuts wouldn’t actually explode the deficit because they would promote faster economic growth and this would raise revenue.
And you might find this plausible if you spent the past two decades sleeping in a cave somewhere. If you didn’t, you probably remember that the same people now telling us what great things tax cuts would do for growth assured us that Bill Clinton’s tax increase in 1993 would lead to economic disaster, while George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 would create vast prosperity. Somehow, neither of those predictions worked out.
So the Republicans screaming about the evils of deficits would not, in fact, reduce the deficit — and, in fact, would do the opposite. What, then, would their policies accomplish? The answer is that they would achieve a major redistribution of income away from working-class Americans toward the very, very rich.
Another nonpartisan group, the Tax Policy Center, has analyzed Mr. Romney’s tax proposal. It found that, compared with current policy, the proposal would actually raise taxes on the poorest 20 percent of Americans, while imposing drastic cuts in programs like Medicaid that provide a safety net for the less fortunate. (Although right-wingers like to portray Medicaid as a giveaway to the lazy, the bulk of its money goes to children, disabled, and the elderly.)
But the richest 1 percent would receive large tax cuts — and the richest 0.1 percent would do even better, with the average member of this elite group paying $1.1 million a year less in taxes than he or she would if the high-end Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire.
There’s one more thing you should know about the Republican proposals: Not only are they fiscally irresponsible and tilted heavily against working Americans, they’re also terrible policy for a nation suffering from a depressed economy in the short run even as it faces long-run budget problems.
Put it this way: Are you worried about a “Greek-style collapse”? Well, these plans would slash spending in the near term, emulating Europe’s catastrophic austerity, even while locking in budget-busting tax cuts for the future.
The question now is whether someone offering this toxic combination of irresponsibility, class warfare, and hypocrisy can actually be elected president.