Friday, September 24, 2010

Jangling juxtapositions

A few years ago, one of our stalwart local conservative state legislators made as a cornerstone of his reelection campaign the promise, "A billion dollars for new roads without raising taxes." (He also devoted much of his time in office to sending plastic fetuses to his fellow representatives, but that's another story, perhaps.)

What was striking about this was not so much the contradiction as the fact that these two apparently mutually exclusive propositions appeared in the very same sentence. Until then politicians had had the tact to spread their proposals for suspending the laws of physics over several sentences at least, so as not to appear to have discarded a tiny remaining shred of respect for the intelligence of the voters. 

Yesterday the GOP congressional leadership doffed their coats and ties and appeared in immaculately pressed shirt sleeves at a local lumberyard to complete the process of revoking cause and effect. I'm sure we all have our favorite jaw-dropping contradictions in the GOP "Pledge to America" unveiled yesterday (pledging to cut off funds for the "costly new health law," which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects will save $100 billion over the next ten years; promising to put America "on the path" to a balanced budget, while proposing to add close to a trillion dollars to the deficit over the next ten years with tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent; vowing "to ensure transparency" while blocking requirements to reveal political donors; and, in the Supreme Chutzpah Award division, pledging to "fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain").

But the one that left me truly agog was the claim that "in the 1990s . . . a Republican Congress was able to bring the budget into balance and eventual surplus."

Omitted from this explanation was the small fact that in the 1990s (when . . . Bill Clinton was president, as I vaguely recall) every single Republican member of Congress voted against the measure that brought the "budget into balance and eventual surplus": the 1993 Clinton budget act that raised top marginal tax rates to 36 and 39.6 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans; set the corporate income tax at 35 percent; limited personal exemptions and itemized deductions for the highest income brackets; and got rid of the regressive income limit subject to Medicare tax.

Here's a handy reference chart to a few of the significant contributors to the current national $9 trillion debt:

(Sources for this are the Office of Management and Budget historical tables, the CBO's calculations of the costs of the Iraq war — which it places at around $2 trillion by the time we're finally done, by the way — and the Tax Policy Center's analysis of the Bush tax cuts.)

Another way of looking at the current budget situation is to ask how we got from the $800 billion annual surplus we would have had by now under the policies in place when Clinton left office in 2001 (and which had already produced three surpluses in a row by that point) and the $1.2 trillion annual deficit we now have. That $2 trillion shift from black to red breaks down like this, based on a compilation of CBO data by the New York Times last year: