Paul Krugman has never been shy about proclaiming that he is right and everyone else is wrong — and not just wrong, but “knaves and fools.” Lately, however, one begins to worry that he might actually hurt himself, so vigorously has he been patting himself on the back for his opposition to “austerity” (defined as any cut in government spending, anytime, anywhere).
Shortly after President Obama finally released his proposed budget a couple weeks ago, Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, launched a stinging attack on the president not over the president’s call for more taxes and spending or because the president’s budget never balances and adds trillions to the national debt, but because the president actually proposed modestly slower growth in Social Security benefits. A “shocking attack on seniors,” Representative Walden called it, accusing the president of “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”
This week marks the one-month anniversary of one of the most terrifying events in American history: the sequester. So, with great trepidation, I have climbed out of my bunker to survey the devastation and send off this column.
As the sequester took effect last Friday (and the world as we know it began to end), President Obama and his spokesmen took to the airwaves to insist that they had a fairer and more balanced alternative.
“The sequester is coming, the sequester is coming,” cries Chicken Little, speaking of the across-the-board spending reductions set to kick in next Friday. As a result, much of the Washington establishment, politicians of both parties, and the media are bracing for the apocalypse.
Of course he believes that we have a spending problem, President Obama assured us, immediately before a State of the Union address in which he called for — you guessed it — more spending. Like Saint Augustine praying “Lord grant me chastity and continence … but not yet,” President Obama paid lip service to the idea of debt reduction but ruled out any real effort to reduce it.
It’s not quite on a par with 9/11 truthers or Obama birthers, but recently a number of liberal commentators have descended into the fever swamps of denialism by rejecting the most basic facts about our debt and deficit. Mind you, they are not arguing about the best policies to reduce the debt — taxe hikes vs. spending cuts — but actually denying that the problem exists at all.
Twenty-three point nine trillion dollars. That will be our national debt in 2022 under the fiscal-cliff bill that just passed Congress. That’s nearly $4 trillion more than the current-law baseline, and while most of that comes from making the Bush tax cuts permanent for most Americans without offsetting the loss of revenue through spending cuts, at least $330 billion of the new debt results from the increased spending that was part of the deal. Our government debt will amount to more than 118 percent of GDP.
It has largely gone unnoticed amidst the hullabaloo surrounding the fiscal cliff, but regardless of what happens with the cliff negotiations, taxes are going up next year. The president may be calling for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes by 2022 in exchange for not driving the country over the cliff, but that does not count Obamacare, which will impose an additional $1 trillion in new or increased taxes over the next ten years, a big portion of which take effect in 2013.
For all those who think that our deficit is caused by a dearth of revenue, consider this thought experiment. In 2012, the federal government will spend $3.56 trillion. Last week’s Powerball jackpot was a reported $587.5 million, the largest winning Powerball payout ever. In order to finance current spending, the federal government would have to hit that jackpot 6,570 times.