Monday, February 12, 2018

The WaPo Gang Going After The Usual Suspects On the Budget Falls On Its Face Factually

All right, all right, that is not completely fair.  Yes, they dump all over Trump and the GOP-run Congress for their massive tax cut directed at the rich, as well as the hypocrisy of the Republicans in so smoothly switching from denouncing budget deficits during the Obama era to a "what? me worry?" attitude now with deficits set to soar in a period of near full employment.  But, of course, the Monday gang at the Washington Post simply cannot avoid making a big deal about somehow "entitlements" are not being cut, although all kinds of other areas are going up, especially defense.  But they just cannot get off this schtick.

I note that Dean Baker has just posted a whole bunch of comments on the newly proposed budget, as well as the recent tax cut, including one focusing on the WaPo gang and their annoying commentaries.  However, I hope to add here some points he does not make.  I am largely in agreement with his posts, with only minor disagreements not worth bothering with here.

Curiously, the usually more annoying WaPo editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, was less annoying than the usual WaPo Monday economics commentator, Robert J. Samuelson.  Of course, Hiatt mourned that in 2012 and 2013 Obama and Boehner could not agree on "tax hikes and entitlement cuts."  Quite aside from this annoying terminology of "entitlements," there simply was never any good reason for cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, at least not directly.  As has been pointed out by many of us from well before then and up to the current time, especially Dean Baker, cuts could have been made, but the way to  do it was to get the wildly high US medical care costs under control in general, which would show up in reductions of Medicare and Medicaid spending, without any loss in quality in care, assuming things were to be managed reasonably.  But Hiatt and crew simply never recognize that. It is just how irresponsible all these politicians are or not just cut cut cutting those darned entitlements, although preferably in conjunction with that very unlikely to happen tax increase.  As noted already, while Hiatt nods at dumping on Dems for supporting some spending increases (not noting that some of them such as disaster relief are really needed), he spends most of his fire dumping on Trump and the GOPsters for their deficit hypocrisy.

However, Samuelson puts on one of his classic performances, indeed worse than usual.  Yes, he does plenty of bashing on the GOP tax cut, but he seems to justify the GOP-pushed increase in military spending (plus $80 billion, the largest increase of any item).  According to RJS, "On defense, President Obama's budgets reduced readiness, left the services too small and made it harder to counter new technological threats, notably cyberwarfare." Really?  The US has bases in 70 nations and special forces in at least 122.  Do we need all that, not to mention that our military spending exceeds the sum of all that going on in the next five or so nations' spending?  I almost do not even know what more to say about this item.

But then when it comes to his specialty, demanding cuts in those darned entitlements, he falls on his face by making outright factual misstatements as near as I can tell.  He starts out with a claim that "so-called entitlement programs...were largely untouched. They represent 70 percent of federal spending."  Oooops!  I checked this number, which I have seen elsewhere previously, and it seems to be fake news, too high.  Looking at 2018, "Pensions" are 25%, "Healthcare" is 28%.  Offhand that 53% should include the big three "entitlements."  If one adds "Welfare" there is another 8%, which puts it up to 61%.  But no matter how you slice it, RJS's 70% number is simply too high, unless one plays some game of simply ignoring some other categories of spending.  RJS really should be above this sort of thing.  And that percentage is not going to rise in 2019 given the big jump in defense spending going on.

There is one more blunder on his part that I find seriously annoying, especially how much reporting of the spending implications and outcomes from ACA have has gone on.  He declares, "Republicans congratulate themselves on new tax cuts; Democrats are always eager to increase social spending - witness the Affordable Care Act."  Ooooooops! yet again.  I double checked.  RJS seems to have forgotten that ACA was sold on actually saving money and it did.  From 2012-2017, the net savings from ACA is estimated at $84 billion.  That maybe not a huge number, but it is a saving that somehow RJS has to turn into an "increase social spending."  Really.  Did he do his homework at all or has he gotten so deep into his standard lines that he is simply dispensing fake news now?  I understand: fake news has simply taken over nearly everything in Washington, but  one would hope that the Washington Post would try to avoid such outright factual errors.

Barkley Rosser


ProGrowthLiberal said...

War means we spend too much on war machines. Thanks for reading Robert no relationship to Paul Samuelson so I do not have to:

‘If one adds "Welfare" there is another 8%, which puts it up to 61%. But no matter how you slice it, RJS's 70% number is simply too high, unless one plays some game of simply ignoring some other categories of spending.’

As Krugman often quips, our Federal government is an insurance company with an army. That Federal purchases makes up 41% of the budget with the vast majority going to the Department of War means we spend too much on war machines.

Anonymous said...

It seems abundantly clear that the United States is spending highly excessive amounts of money on the military and healthcare. On the other hand there needs to be found a way to facilitate more community and self-sufficiency for welfare recipients in every respect (but most urgently for environmental reasons). The irony is that if communities should develop strong self-support networks and behaviours to any noticeable extent then it would threaten the basis of corporate profits and government revenue. Does Government consider it far better to leave a great mass of people as passive dependants in order to keep this circus rolling along?