Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Orwell-Obama-Hoyer Pay As You Go Legislation

Democrats won't be the party of deficits.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md), Congress Must Pay for What It Spends, WSJ, 25 June 2009

To see Democrats at their most Orwellian, no need to go further today than Steny Hoyer in the WSJ, shilling for Obama's "pay-go" legislation and blaming all deficits on a combination of profligate Bush spending and "reckless" Bush tax cuts. As the Wall St. Journal's senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, explained in a recent interview:

President Obama can read the opinion polls, and he is seeing what we've been talking about every night, which is the American people are absolutely incensed about the debt that's going on in this country. And so now President Obama is trying to sound like a born-again deficit hawk.

The difference between Obama's words and deeds is a vast and yawning chasm. It is true that the greatest sin of post-Reagan era Republicans has been to jettison fiscal discipline. It is a fundamental failure that has allowed the left to paint Republicans as hypocrites. But for the left to claim the mantle of "fiscal discipline" for themselves is to pass beyond the bounds of any reasonable definition of the word "hypocrisy" and enter into Orwellian space. But that is precisely where Hoyer, on behalf of Obama, takes us today.

The Hoyer article deserves a full roasting, so here goes.

In recent years, America's fiscal story has been one of steady decline -- from record surpluses to record deficits. In 2001, the federal government had a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. Today, we are looking at a fiscal year 2009 deficit of $1.7 trillion.

"Steady decline?" In other words, today's multi-trillion dollar deficit is the natural evolution of the Bush years? The actual budget deficit in 2006, before Pelosi, Reid and the Democrats took control of the purse strings, was $248 billion. The only way you go from that to a $1.75 trillion deficit in 2009 and describe it as a "steady decline" is to redefine the word "steady" to mean "fell off a cliff."

Further, the Clinton surplus was the function of an accounting gimmick with Social Security enacted during the 90's. Social Security surpluses of those years - and continuing through today - were used to buy government bonds, thus making the annual revenues a part of the general funds of Congress (and that a profligate Congress spent wholesale every year). It was and is a vast Ponzi scheme. Our actual national debt increased every year under Clinton. Social Security is now a time bomb set to blow up because the left in Congress refused to do anything about it. The huge number of baby boomers who gave the government the illusion of surpluses in the Clinton years are starting to make claims on the system that will steadily grow and overwhelm the system in just a few years.

A number of factors have brought us to this cash-strapped point, including reckless tax cuts, the cost of two wars, entitlement programs that have grown on autopilot, and the necessary, though costly, efforts to get our economy out of recession.

Wow. There is not a shred of intellectual honesty in that sentence.

1. Bush's tax cuts not only raised tax revenues because of an expanding tax base, they did so at the greatest rate in our nations history.

That was completely predictable from the historical data we have on the effect of tax cuts on the American economy during the 1920's, 60's and 80's..

2. The cost of the two wars we are fighting added to our deficit, but pale in comparison to real culprit, the growth in domestic spending. To put this in perspective, the total cost of the Iraq War from 2003 to 2008 was $551 billion dollars. Obama quadrupled that in his first hundred days with massive domestic spending - which, as an important aside, he did at the cost of our national defense. His budget reduces defense-related R&D, cuts major weapons systems, cuts missile defense, and holds defense spending below inflation, resulting in an ever-shrinking defense budget. As Michael O'Hanlon wrote in the Washington Post:

After three months of very impressive decisions regarding national security, President Obama made perhaps his first significant mistake. It concerns the defense budget, where his plans are insufficient to support the national security establishment over the next five years.

The truth of our deficits is ever increasing profligate spending above tax receipts on the domestic front - something Obama has just put on steroids.

3. The entitlement programs didn't grow on auto-pilot. "Auto-pilot" suggests that no one has attempted to curb the growth. The truth is that Steny Hoyer and the left beat back every attempt at reforming Social Security. Does this look like "auto-pilot" to you.

4. The massive spending by Obama was not "necessary" to get our economy out of recession. It was a choice the left made to fund every liberal special interest program they could think of under the rubric of Keynesian economics. Other alternatives to stimulate the economy were equally viable, but none offered the left a chance to go hog wild at the public trough.

But by far the worst decision was the abandonment in the Bush years of the principle that our country should pay for what it buys. It's time to learn from that error and establish that principle in law. President Obama has made the pay-as-you-go rule -- a.k.a. "paygo" -- a central part of his campaign for fiscal responsibility. Under paygo, Congress is compelled to find savings for the dollars it spends.

This is a joke, right? True, Bush and the Republican Congress deserve opprobrium for their lack of fiscal discipline. But their lack of discipline is infinitesimal compared to Obama and the far left who control Congress and the purse strings today. In this instance, a WaPo graph is worth nine trillion words:

The truth is that this pay-go legislation is a penultimate act of political cynicism. Its the left trying to cover-up their Obama Gone Wild spending spree by turning reality on its head. There are two truths to this snake oil Steny Hoyer is peddling. The "pay-go" legislation Hoyer is hawking specifically exempts Obama's multi-trillion dollar pet projects from its restrictions. It will provide cover for the largest planned expansion of spending and borrowing in our nation's history. It's only practical effect beyond pure propaganda for Obama will be to make tax cuts a thing of the past.

In the 1990s, paygo proved to be one of our most valuable tools for climbing out of a budgetary hole. As President Obama put it earlier this month, "It is no coincidence that this rule was in place when we moved . . . to record surpluses in the 1990s -- and that when this rule was abandoned, we returned to record deficits that doubled the national debt."

President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress set paygo aside, turning borrowed money into massive tax cuts for the most privileged. Borrowing made those tax cuts politically pain-free as long as Mr. Bush was in office, but it only passed the bill on to the next generation -- along with ever-inflating interest payments.

As I indicated above, a good part of the budget "surpluses" of the 1990's were nothing more than accounting changes that, in essence, made of Social Security a ponzi scheme. To the extent there was any fiscal discipline, it was the discipline imposed by Newt Gingrich and the House on the Clinton administration. As discussed in the quote below, pay-go legislation played little if any role in imposing fiscal discipline during the 90's as it was regularly ignored under House rules.

Pay-go was terminated in 2001 to allow for the Bush tax cuts - and you can see the result in the graph above. We didn't lose revenues, we gained them on a historic scale. Yet under pay-go, the math would have ignored this historical certainty and required massive cuts in spending to enact the tax cuts. Pay-go, since revived by Pelosi as a House rule in 2007, has been equally ineffective. It has been regularly ignored whenever convenient for Democrats - such as, for example, when passing Obama's massive 9,000 ear-mark strong "stimulus" package. This from Brian Riedl at the Heritage Foundation:

PAYGO has proven to be more of a talking point than an actual tool for budget discipline. During the 1991-2002 round of statutory PAYGO, Congress and the President still added more than $700 billion to the budget deficit and simply cancelled every single sequestration. Since the 2007 creation of the PAYGO rule, Congress has waived it numerous times and added $600 billion to the deficit.

Creating a PAYGO law and then blocking its enforcement is inconsistent and hypocritical. And given their recent waiving of PAYGO to pass a $1.1 trillion stimulus bill, there is no reason to believe the current Congress and the President are any more likely to enforce PAYGO than their predecessors were. And even if it were enforced, PAYGO applies to only a small fraction of federal spending (new entitlements). Consequently, PAYGO is merely a distraction from real budget reforms that could rein in runaway spending and budget deficits.

You can read the rest of Mr. Hoyer's Orwellian scratchings here. Pay-go legislation really is political cynicism taken to its zenith. And neither Steny Hoyer nor Obama display the least bit of intellectual honesty in pushing it as political cover for an experiment in deficit spending that could truly doom our economy.

1 comment:

MathewK said...

Good grief, that graph makes my head hurt, just looking at it.