Yesterday, Mitt Romney gave a big speech in which he accused Obama of lighting a “prairie fire of debt.” It’s a good line, and it has received widespread media coverage.
Romney’s speech has already been dissected by Jonathan Chait and Steve Benen. They note that it’s entirely at odds with conventional understanding of how deficits work, and utterly disconnected from context, rendering it almost unquantifiably misleading.
But I wanted to make another point. If you scan through all the media attention Romney’s speech received, you are hard-pressed to find any news accounts that tell readers the following rather relevant points:
1) Nonpartisan experts believe Romney’s plans would increase the deficit far more than Obama’s would.
2) George W. Bush’s policies arguably are more responsible for increasing the deficit than Obama's are.
Oh, sure, many of the news accounts contain the Obama campaign’s response to Romney’s speech; the Obama campaign put out a widely-reprinted statement arguing that Romney’s plans would increase the deficit and that he’d return to policies that created it in the first place.
But this shouldn’t be a matter of partisan opinion. On the first point, independent experts think an actual set of facts exists that can be used to determine what the impact of Romney’s policies on the deficit would be. And according to those experts, based on what we know now, Romney’s policies would explode the deficit far more than Obama’s would.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has taken a close look at this question. It has determined that relative to current policy — that is, if you keep the Bush tax cuts in place, as Romney wants to do — Romney’s tax cutting plans would increase the deficit by nearly $5 trillion over 10 years. That’s on top of keeping the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Romney has promised to close various loopholes to pay for his tax cuts, but he hasn’t specified which ones. Until he does, the Tax Policy Center concludes, his plan would cost $5 trillion — which would be added, yes, to the deficit.
By contrast, Obama’s plans would not increase the deficit by anything close to that amount. Relative to current policy, the Tax Policy Center has found, Obama’s plan would reduce the deficit by approximately $2 trillion over the next decade. Now, under Obama, the deficit would still increase. That’s because current policy means we’re forgoing the $4.5 trillion in revenues we’d gain if we let all the Bush tax cuts expire. But neither candidate is going to do that. Obama, however, would end the Bush tax cuts for the rich and bring in revenues through a variety of other tax increases. Bottom line: relative to current policy, Obama’s plan would reduce the deficit by bringing in $180 billion or more in revenues a year, or approximately $2 trillion over 10 years; Romeny’s plan would increase the deficit by nearly $500 billion a year — $5 trillion over ten years.
The Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams summed it up perfectly in a quote to me:
“The bottom line is that whatever baseline you use, until Romney makes good on his promise to pay for his tax cuts, he would increase the deficit far more than Obama would.”
On the second point, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has determined that the policies put in place under Bush are the main driver of the deficits that are projected over the next decade.
The two bullet points above could not be more central to the debate over the debt that Romney’s big speech set in motion yesterday. Yet the vast majority of news consumers who now know that Romney has accused Obama of lighting a “prairie fire of debt” that threatens to engulf our children and our future haven’t been told about either of them.