It’s been widely pointed out by liberals that much of the discussion of fiscal issues conducted by supposedly “neutral” reporters actually does take sides in a pernicious way. It often treats it as a given that near term deficit reduction is a good thing — sometimes even cheerleading for that outcome – when in fact there is an actual policy dispute over this point, with many arguing that immediate deficit reduction is destructive to the recovery, and that dealing with the deficit should be deferred until the economy is stronger.
And that’s why today’s big New York Times piece quoting a range of economists arguing that Washington’s deficit obsession has proven a drag on the recovery is so important and welcome. The piece states clearly and unequivocally that the consensus view among economists is actually the one that’s often marginalized — i.e., that short term deficit reduction and spending cuts hurt the economy:
The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.
After two years in which President Obama and Republicans in Congress have fought to a draw over their clashing approaches to job creation and budget deficits, the consensus about the result is clear: Immediate deficit reduction is a drag on full economic recovery.
Now it’s true that Obama and Democrats are heavily complicit in the 2011 decision to agree to a big deficit cutting deal that continues to harm us to this day (though it’s an open question whether Obama had any choice). And it’s also true that Obama and Dems agreed to end the payroll tax holiday, another drag on the recovery.
But the simple fact remains that even if Obama continues to flirt with deficit-obsessed rhetoric and continues to push for some spending cuts, he wants more stimulus spending and wants deficit reduction to be balanced via higher revenues from the wealthy, while Republicans are pushing solely for still more spending cuts. The Times comes as close as possible to flatly stating that one side’s approach is far more threatening to the recovery than the other’s is:
In all this time, the president has fought unsuccessfully to combine deficit reduction, including spending cuts and tax increases, with spending increases and targeted tax cuts for job-creation initiatives in areas like infrastructure, manufacturing, research and education. That is a formula closer to what the economists propose. But Republicans have insisted on spending cuts alone and smaller government as the key to economic growth.
Today, Obama will travel to Texas, where he will renew the push for more stimulus spending. At the same time, House Republicans are expected to pass a measure that would allow the Treasury to pay off bondholders without a debt ceiling hike, a move designed to set the stage for Republicans to try to use the debt limit to extort still more spending cuts. As the Times puts it, economists see this idea as “dangerous.”
The shrinking deficit shows clearly that Congress could very easily be spending more to alleviate the unemployment crisis without hurting the country’s near term fiscal outlook. But Congress isn’t doing that. And so, it’s often said that “Washington’s” deficit obsession is holding the recovery back, which is certainly true. But it’s worth stating as clearly as possible that according to the broad consensus of economists, one party is far more of a threat to the recovery than the other is.
* Conservatives balk at LGBT protections in immigration reform: Related to the above polling: Prominent conservative Senators are explicitly threatening to kill immigration reform if it includes any protections for gay and lesbian couples, something that will be the subject of a high stakes vote on the Judiciary Committee. As I noted here yesterday, Republicans should be challenged to openly kill this legislation simply because it affords the same immigration rights to gays and lesbians as it does to heterosexual couples.
The key question is how prominent Dem Senators on the committee, such as Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, will vote on the amendments. On the one hand, they may worry about killing the legislation; on the other, it’s hard to imagine them voting No, given how much that would anger and alienate an important Dem constituency.
* Broad support for gay marriage — but not among Republicans: Even as conservatives continue to threaten to sink immigration reform over LGBT protections, a new Post/ABC News poll finds that 55 percent of voters support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally. While 62 percent of independents support gay marriage, only 33 percent of Republicans do, while 64 percent remain opposed — again underscoring GOP isolation on this issue. Similarly, 62 percent of moderates support gay marriage — while 62 percent of conservatives oppose it.
This helps explain the Republican Party’s refusal to evolve on the issue. Earlier this year, the RNC itself recognized the need to evolve on gay rights in its “autopsy,” then promptly renewed opposition to gay marriage as part of the party platform.
* Overwhelming support for Jason Collins’ coming out: The Post poll also finds a large majority of Americans, 68 percent, supports NBA center Jason Collins’ decision to publicly announce that he is gay, making him the first male major team sport player to do so. Support is even more overwhelming in the 18-39 group — 79 percent — again reminding us of the degree to which support for gay rights is generationally driven.
Also: 63 percent of Americans support the Boy Scouts of America admitting gay scouts; interestingly, here a majority of Republicans, 53 percent, is supportive, too.
* Polls show Markey with solid lead: Two new polls show Dem Congressman Ed Markey with a solid lead over GOP challenger Gabriel Gomez: Suffolk University finds him up by 52-35, while WBUR finds him up by 46-38. However: Both polls show that very large chunks of the Massachusetts electorate are not familiar with Gomez, so there’s still a long way to go for Markey.
And that’s why aggressive scrutiny of Gomez right now may prove important in the race. Today the Boston Globe reports that Gomez claimed a nearly-$300,000 tax deduction in exchange for leaving the façade of his home untouched — which he would have had to do anyway because of local landmark laws. The IRS later classified this sort of maneuver as one of its “Dirty Dozen tax scams.”
* Your guide to yesterday’s Benghazi hearings: Glenn Kessler sorts through all the noise and separates what was actually news from the hearings and what wasn’t.
Short version: We now know some officials thought the embassy attack was a terrorist attack from Day One — and the administration’s initial assessment that it wasn’t was unquestionably wrong in the face of increasingly clear evidence to the contrary. But there’s still no evidence that the administration’s public conclusions, which it was reaching in real time, didn’t represent the consensus view of the intelligence community, or that the administration deliberately gamed them for political reasons.
* What the Benghazi hearings did not tell us: Republicans have pointed to the testimony of ambassador Gregory Hicks, who claimed the administration could have done more to prevent the attacks, as a breakthrough moment. But the Wall Street Journal notes that the hearings “didn’t shed new light” on the core question of whether the military was in a position to mount a rescue mission that night.
* Hicks didn’t help the GOP’s Benghazi case: Dana Milbank boils it down:
Hicks said he thought a flyover by U.S. jets could have deterred the second of the two attacks that night, but he declined to question the judgment of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said there was no way to get the fighters there in time….He undermined one of Issa’s claims — that Clinton had rejected an increase in security for the Libya facilities — when he agreed that the secretary of state’s name appears on all cables, even if she doesn’t write them. Hicks did have some damning things to say about the State Department trying to block him from cooperating with Issa’s committee. But that wasn’t quite the evidence Issa had promised: that politics drove the administration’s response to Benghazi.
But as Steve Benen notes, the Benghazi “scandal” has become the GOP’s white whale, and the degree to which the GOP base has now become persuaded that this will bring down the Obama presidency only means the hearings will have to continue.
* And Dems face a challenging Senate map in 2014: National Journal games it out, finding that Democrats very well may be facing a situation in which they have no opportunities to flip seats, meaning they will be entirely on defense. Of course, even if that proves true, Republicans will have to flip a total of six seats to take back the majority, which is also a heavy lift.