A Commentary By Joe Conason
It isn't the earmarks, stupid.
Bullying Republican Senate leaders into a "voluntary" ban on earmarks may represent a political triumph for the tea party movement, but as a measure to reduce the federal deficit it is a meaningless substitute for real action. The facts about earmarks -- and the deficit, for that matter -- are so simple that even the dumbest birther should be able to understand.
Funds directed to specific projects by legislators -- which is what earmarks are -- account for around 1 percent of any annual budget, so they represent far too little money to substantially reduce the budget. Besides, banning earmarks won't reduce the budget (or the deficit) anyway, because they are drawn from funds that have already been appropriated.
So much for that sideshow, a cynical exercise whose only conceivable purpose is to deceive voters. How would serious people try to reduce the deficit? First, it is essential to understand how and why the deficit grew in the first place.
It isn't the stimulus, stupid. And it isn't the bailouts, either.
Compared with the actual causes of the long-term deficit, neither the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act nor the Troubled Asset Relief Program amounts to much -- even though they were successfully demonized by the same people who make noise about earmarks. Most of the TARP expenditures will be recovered eventually. And according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, whose analysis is broadly respected as nonpartisan and accurate, all of the stimulus spending will account for slightly more than $1 trillion between 2009 and 2019, including debt service.
Now a trillion dollars sounds like a lot of money, even over a decade, and it is -- except when measured against the far greater costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration.
As many commentators noted at the time, no president before George W. Bush had embarked on a major war -- let alone two wars -- without raising revenue to pay the costs. The CBPP estimate of the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts and the Bush tax cuts adds nearly $7 trillion to the federal deficits between 2009 and 2019, or roughly six to seven times the amount attributed to the stimulus.
Still paying attention? The other underlying causes of the long-term deficit are the lingering costs imposed by the recession, which will continue to eat away at the federal budget for a decade to come, and the rising national bill for health care as the population ages.
No, stupid, that doesn't mean the deficit is caused by health care reform or "Obamacare" -- although that has been demonized, too. In fact, the president's attempt to reform America's broken, ridiculously inflated system of delivering medical care is likely to reduce health care costs significantly, but that is only a beginning.
Proposals to reduce the deficit by impoverishing seniors, punishing middle-class families, and neglecting infrastructure and education will do more harm than good. The deepest problem in the U.S. economy is the gross tilt of income and wealth toward the very top and the distortion of policy to favor financial manipulation rather than real growth.
Perhaps it is time to listen again to the only president in recent memory who balanced four budgets and left a surplus for the Republicans to squander. He achieved those goals not by cutting spending, shutting down the government or ending welfare, but raising taxes on the wealthy in his first budget. There will be no progress toward fiscal balance and economic sanity until we acknowledge those facts -- and stop listening to stupid.
Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer (www.observer.com).
COPYRIGHT 2010 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentary by Joe Conason.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.