Off the Wall

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is without peer when it comes to spin, but the editors hit a new low with Wednesday's lead editorial, headlined "All You Need to Know."

The title refers to the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the soaring deficit. The whole point of the report is to warn that that the "baseline" deficit, which appears to gradually decline between 2005 and 2016, is entirely misleading and understated because it leaves out crucial and costly items. Omitted are anticipated spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the costs of making George W. Bush's tax cuts permanent (as both Bush and the Journal want), the real Medicare outlays once the drug benefit takes effect, and widely expected relief from the alternative minimum tax.

Once these widely expected outlays are factored in, the real deficit does not dwindle to under a hundred billion dollars a year by 2011, as the misleading baseline figure forecasts, but soars to well over half a trillion a year, and even more if Bush succeeds in partly privatizing Social Security. Just to make sure nobody missed the point, the authors of the CBO report put the warning that the baseline numbers were not to be relied upon right in the introduction to the thick report, and spent several chapters explaining why.

So what did the Journal do? "All you need to know about the latest Congressional Budget Office figures," the editorialist helpfully wrote, "is contained in the nearby chart."

And what's in the chart? The very baseline numbers that the CBO disavows as misleading and grossly understated.

The editorial writer compounds the dishonesty by citing as an authoritative CBO projection the estimate of the national debt for 2011 -- using the same baseline number that leaves out much of the impact of tax cuts and military spending. So the editorial is far from “All You Need to Know,” and the opposite of what the CBO actually reports.

It's clear that these people are without honor or shame. But in this case they have taken leave of common sense, too. Anyone who took sixth-grade math can go to the CBO Web site ( and read, in clear English, how the CBO makes a liar of the Journal's claim.

Robert Kuttner is a Prospect co-editor.

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