“Their proposal ... makes harmful cuts to things like education, that strengthen middle-class security. Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations, by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.”
--White House spokesman Jay Carney, Dec. 9, 2011
“What I understand is that in the Republican proposal you're talking about, they didn't spell out where the cuts would come. And I get that they were trying to hide the fact that this would be the result. … The result would be cuts in nondefense discretionary programs, education and clean energy, veterans programs. That's the effect of their proposal.”
--Carney, Dec. 12, 2011
There are few areas more confusing than the federal budget. In many ways, it is a funhouse mirror of numbers, allowing politicians to make claims that are designed to mislead and confuse voters.
The above quotes by White House spokesman Jay Carney provide a case study of this technique.
On Friday, reading from a prepared statement, he accused the House Republicans of making “harmful cuts” to education in order to fund their version of an extension of the payroll tax cut. On Monday, he said that “they didn’t spell out where the cuts would come from.” But, he still insisted the result of their plan would be cuts in “education and clean energy, veterans programs.”
It sounds pretty dreadful. Is it true?
The House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax for one year has a number of elements that concern the White House, but let’s keep the focus on the spending cuts. The best source for this information is the Congressional Budget Office estimate of the legislation, since the CBO is the nonpartisan scorekeeper.
“Raising taxes slows the economy. Raising taxes kills jobs. Government spending does not create jobs. The idea that if you take a dollar out of the economy from somebody who earned it, either through debt or through taxes, and give it to somebody who is politically connected, that there are more dollars around? That if you stand on one side of the lake and put a bucket into the lake and walk around to the other side in front of the TV cameras, pour the bucket back into the lake and announce you’re stimulating the lake to great depths. We just wasted $800 billion on stimulus spending that added to debt that killed jobs. There are fewer jobs than before.”
— Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, on “Meet the Press,” Nov. 27, 2011
“In 1982, the Democrats said, ‘Gee, if you let us raise taxes, we’ll cut spending $3 for every $1 of tax increase.’ Taxes were raised. Spending didn’t go down, spending went up. The same thing happened in 1990, although George Bush -- Herbert Walker Bush -- was promised $2 in phony spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Taxes went up, spending actually increased. It wasn’t cut. Twice the Democrats have said let’s raise taxes and cut spending; twice taxes were increased, spending was not reduced at all.”
— Norquist, later in the same program
“They weren’t real reductions in rates. The 2003 rate reductions you had on cap gains and others -- that gave you four years of strong economic growth that lasted until the Democrats won the House and Senate, and you knew those tax cuts were going away.”
— Norquist, in the same program
Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has been in the news lately because Democrats charge (without much evidence) that he is single-handedly responsible for the collapse of the debt supercommittee because Republicans are afraid of violating his no-new-taxes pledge.
We don’t fact check political philosophies, but Norquist’s appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday gives us an opportunity to look at some of the facts that he uses to make his case. As can be seen from the excerpts of the interview above, Norquist is unabashedly partisan — in his view, economic growth literally ends the day Democrats win power in Congress. That already begins to stretch the bounds of economic logic, but what about some of his other assertions?
A key part of Norquist’s case is that government spending is always bad and that, despite repeated promises of cuts by Democrats, it always goes up. We take no position on his economic argument about spending, but the notion that spending has always gone up only makes sense if you look only at raw dollar spending — which does not make much sense at all.