Author: Paul Krugman, Janet Allon
It can be tough, Paul Krugman allows in Friday’s column, to keep up the level of outrage at Republican lawmakers who do not seem to be in any way bound to the rules of honor or honesty in their budget proposal. Like, not at all.
“Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits,” Krugman opens, “but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar ‘magic asterisk’ — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.
“But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.”
How bad is it? It is beyond horrendous. It may be tempting to ignore these budget proposals, or convince one’s self that such budgets never become law, but the fact is, as Krugman points out, the “modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics.” Some of the proposals are well known: drastic cuts in food stamps, Medicaid and a disastrous end to Obamacare health insurance subsidies, both of which amount to a deliberate plan to roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. Other cuts would have to come from Social Security and Medicare, though the Republican authors do not come right out and admit that. It almost goes without saying that the budgets call for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which includes the taxes that pay for it, or, Krugman estimates, $1 trillion in revenue, with absolutely no hint on how to make up for that. “It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior,” Krugman writes. “The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.”
What’s really going on? The charitable explanation is that the Republicans honestly believe the demonstrably false horseshit that tax cuts for the rich help anybody but the rich, and somehow magically create revenue for the government. (Yeah, makes no sense.) Krugman, of course, does not buy it. And it makes him very, very angry, as it should make all of us.
I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.