This is something that other people have mentioned, and Jamelle brings up in his extremely helpful post about Paul Ryan, but it really needs to be emphasized: Paul Ryan is not a "deficit hawk." No matter how many times the news media tell us, it doesn't make it true. As I've said before, you can't call yourself a deficit hawk if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway. Show me someone who's willing to cut programs he favors (Ryan isn't), and would actually take potentially painful measures to balance the budget (Ryan wouldn't), and that's a deficit hawk. Ryan, on the other hand, is a conservative ideologue who couches what Newt Gingrich appropriately called "right-wing social engineering" in a lot of talk about making tough choices. But I've never actually seen Paul Ryan make a "tough" choice, at least one that was tough for him. There's nothing "tough" about a conservative Republican who tells you he wants to slash Medicare and Medicaid, increase defense spending, and cut taxes for the wealthy. That's like Homer Simpson telling you he's making the tough choice to skip the salad and eat three dozen donuts instead.
But oh boy, have the media ever bought into the idea of Ryan as the courageous budget-cutter...
Yesterday afternoon at the National Press Club (the standard Washington venue for events that need a little class), the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget—a bipartisan debt-reduction group—rolled out its “Fix the Debt” campaign, an attempt to push deficit reduction to the top of the congressional priority list. It's hard to overstate the extent to which this was an almost stereotypical gathering of Beltway deficit scolds.
In today’s New York Times, David Brooks has an extended meditation on debt that relies on one giant omission:
Recently, life has become better and more secure. But the aversion to debt has diminished amid the progress. Credit card companies seduced people into borrowing more. Politicians found that they could buy votes with borrowed money. People became more comfortable with red ink.
Today we are living in an era of indebtedness. Over the past several years, society has oscillated ever more wildly though three debt-fueled bubbles. First, there was the dot-com bubble. Then, in 2008, the mortgage-finance bubble. Now, we are living in the fiscal bubble.
Mitt Romney is scheduled to give a speech this afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa, where he’ll focus “on the unprecedented growth of government, spending and debt under President Obama.” The American Spectator has excerpts from the address, and they are–for anyone who cares about truthfulness–rage inducing:
President Obama started his days in office with the trillion-dollar stimulus package – the biggest, most careless one-time expenditure by the federal government in history. And remember this: the stimulus wasn’t just wasted – it was borrowed and wasted. We still owe the money, we’re still paying interest on it, and it’ll be that way long after this presidency ends in January.
Could this week produce a turning point in Europe’s long, Sisyphean battle against the debt-and-banking crisis that has been ravaging it for the last two-and-a-half years? This coming Sunday, France will likely vote for Francois Hollande, a pro-Keynesian Socialist, as its new president. In Greece, on the same day, parliamentary elections will produce a hammer blow to the existing two-party system and will significantly increase the strength of the anti-Europeans on the far left and the extreme right.
It is a well-known maxim that to keep repeating the same action and expect a different result is a symptom of madness. It is hard to find a different way to account for the persistence of Eurozone leaders in inflicting punishing austerity on countries belonging to the common currency, a strategy that has proved both fiscally ineffective and socially destructive.
In recent days, the focus of the crisis has returned to Spain, and for good reason. The country suffers from the highest unemployment rate in Europe: 24 percent, and it’s more than 50 percent among those 15 to 24. Despite this catastrophic state of affairs, the relatively new, conservative Spanish government—elected last November with 46 percent of the vote on a platform of austerity and structural reform—recently unveiled a budget proposal that, in the words of Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro, is the strictest since the death of Franco in 1975. The total fiscal adjustment for 2012 is a massive 27 billion euros. The goal is to bring Spain’s budget deficit down from 8.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 5.3 percent.
Last night in Brussels, the leaders of 25 of the 27 European Union countries agreed to become more like Germany. Not in so many words, of course. There was talk of spurring growth, creating jobs, and liberalizing trade. But at the heart of the pact was the so-called debt brake.
The most you can say about Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels response to the State of the Union is that it was better than Bobby Jindal’s attempt in 2009.
To be fair, responding to the State of the Union has never been an easy task. The president has the advantage of pomp, circumstance, and ritual. At best, the opposition party can present a simulacra of these things—see Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s response in 2010—and hope that the actual message is strong enough to reach viewers.
Jeff Madrick, the author most recently of Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (Knopf), exchanges questions and ideas with Thomas Byrne Edsall, whose book The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (Doubleday) is out this week.
Madrick: Your book places the current extreme partisanship in its critical economic context. There are cultural and religious conflicts in America, but it is economic scarcity that underlies much of our political paralysis. Is that so—scarcity lately more than culture? And scarcity has tended to favor conservatives?
Congress had debt on the brain in 2011—fights over the debt ceiling, the Supercommittee, the Bush tax cuts, and voucherizing Medicare—but it amounted to just talk. It was a weird issue to focus on in the year before a big election, since most voters find unemployment and the general economy more important problems to tackle than the federal deficit. And, it turns out that this obsession with the debt was a bad idea for more than Congress' approval rating.
Yesterday, both Bob Kuttner, here in the Prospect, and I ,in my Washington Post column, noted that the deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy struck to save the Eurozone will inflict years of austerity on European nations that are already mired in depression. Spain, for instance, has an unemployment rate of about 20 percent and a youth unemployment rate that is approaching a mind-boggling 50 percent. It needs a massive Keynesian jolt to its economy, not budgetary constraints that will condemn it to a decade or quarter-century of penury.
Last week, amid continuing turbulence in European bond markets, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in Paris in the latest attempt to bring the nearly two-year-old euro crisis under control. As was expected, the results were dismal. The best the conservative leaders of the two most important countries in the Eurozone could muster was a proposal that would enshrine balanced-budget rules in the national constitutions of member states and a typically vague pledge to move toward a common "economic government," giving Brussels greater powers of intervention in national budgets.
After months of negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six” has released its plan for long-term debt reduction. The proposal is in line with previous recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles Commission. It includes $500 billion in discretionary spending cuts, cuts to Medicare (which can include an increase in the eligibility age) and unspecified Social Security reform. It also contains revenue increases, broad-based tax reform, and discretionary spending caps with a trigger that will kick in by 2015 if deficit reduction isn’t on track.