Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 19, 2010

LIE OF THE DAY.... For all of their many faults, the message discipline of Republican lawmakers is a sight to behold. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on CNN yesterday morning:

"The last year of the Bush administration, the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.2 percent, well within the range of what most economists think is manageable. A year and a half later, it's almost 10 percent."

Around the same time, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this on NBC:

"You know, in the last year that President Bush was in office, 2008, the deficit was 3.2 percent of the gross domestic product. Today it's 10 percent."

Republicans desperately want Americans to believe Democrats nearly tripled the deficit. Here's the reality: when Bush/Cheney left office, they left behind a $1.3 trillion deficit. We don't yet know exactly what this year's deficit will be, but most estimates point suggest it'll be about $1.4 trillion.

With that in mind, there are a few angles to consider here. First, while there's probably a shortage of calculators in the Republican cloak room, even GOP leaders should understand that going from $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion isn't an especially significant increase given the size of the economy and the budget, and it's certainly not a tripling of the deficit as they're suggesting.

Second, despite the fact that Bush is gone, the single biggest factors driving the deficit are Bush/Cheney policies. That's not opinion; it's fact. McConnell and Cornyn may not like it, but reality doesn't care.

And third, Bush, McConnell, and Cornyn added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years. They approved tax cuts, two wars, Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind, and a massive financial industry bailout -- without even trying to pay for literally any of it. If they think they have credibility on fiscal responsibility, they're out of their minds.

Update: Paul Krugman takes the claim on in more detail, and includes a helpful chart. Take a look.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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They are credible on fiscal matters because they have been declared credible on fiscal matters.

For thirty years. Sheer dint of repetition. Every year -- well, both years -- the government ran a current account surplus under Clinton, people told pollsters that the federal budget was in deficit, and that the deficit was increasing.

Never underestimate the power of storytelling.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 19, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

I believe you have heard that most Americans believe TARP was signed by Obama, no? These guys know what they are doing.

Posted by: tom on July 19, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

curious about the source of their phoney numbers or if the hosts challenged them on these false claims.

Posted by: laurie on July 19, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Perception is reality, Steve. Facts have no place in Apathetic America.

Onward to November victory! - Mitch McConnell

Posted by: mikeg on July 19, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone know where does this 10% figure come from?

Posted by: arkie on July 19, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Not only that, but McConnell kept making that bogus point at least three times in response to different questions from Candy Crowley. Poor guy, it's the only line he practiced ...

Posted by: Melissa on July 19, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know where the 10% figure comes from, but I know we'll be hearing it for the next 3 1/2 months. And I know that regardless of veracity, it will be the truth.

Posted by: Perspecticus on July 19, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

That's not opinion; it's fact. McConnell and Cornyn may not like it, but reality doesn't care.

Alas, politics doesn't care what Reality does or doesn't care about. Politics runs on perception, not reality.

That said, it still seems to me that the Repub numbers game can be flipped around a little. Given how small the increase in the budget deficit is, if there is any grain of truth to the Repub %-of-GDP number, it is only because the Republican Recession has reduced economic activity by 2/3rds; that is, the growth in their new favorite metric is entirely due to changes in GDP, not changes in deficit. And the recession is still their fault. So sayeth the latest polls.

We win. Nyah.

Posted by: zeitgeist on July 19, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

-And the New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Scandal happened in November of 2008.

Rhetorical Q: Who was Attorney General? Who was President?

Posted by: DAY on July 19, 2010 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Does anyone know where does this 10% figure come from?"

Sure. The GDP in 2009 was about 14 trillion dollars. A deficit of 1.4 trillion is 10% of that.

The mystery is where 3.2% comes from, since the figures didn't change much year-to-year.

Posted by: Grumpy on July 19, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

"..., and a massive financial industry bailout -- without even trying to pay for literally any of it."

Beep! TARP was intended and designed to be paid back by the rescued institutions. And it this regard alone, it's been a success.

Posted by: RusS on July 19, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

@ Grumpy - the 3.2% number is for FY2008, which ended in August of 2008. So, McConnell is technically accurate but deceptive as to what he is referring to. The number he should use is for the last budget that the Bush administration prepared (i.e. FY2009) which had a blowout number of 9.9%.

Posted by: PeakVT on July 19, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, here it is. But it's from a biased source, so take it with a grain of salt: Whitehouse.gov


This spreadsheet shows total deficit as % of GDP in 2008 = 3.2, in 2009 = 9.9.

So it's not a lie. But it is a distortion: what caused the deficit? Less revenue thanks to tax cuts passed by Bush Republicans, partly.

Posted by: Grumpy on July 19, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Make that September, 2008, for the end of FY2008.

Posted by: PeakVT on July 19, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, that's a good point, PeakVT. Obama's first budget year won't end until October, with a deficit/GDP of 10.6%, just a slight bump from Bush's last budget year.

Posted by: Grumpy on July 19, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Sadly, our system is constructed so that the Minority Leader of the Senate is granted automatic credibility, based on a tradition that such people wouldn't be complete, bald-faced liars. Modern Republicans have been exploiting that for some time, catapulting the most absurd notions into the public discussion. The media seem happy to pass along these absurdities unchallenged, since it is easier that firing up a Google search and getting actual facts. Particularly since reporting that the Minority Leader was full of shit might would mean he wouldn't talk to them anymore, and then they'd have to do actual work, instead of just transcribing.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 19, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Complete ownership of the news shows that most people watch by a few, Republican-wired interests ensures that immediate pushback via knowledgeable hosts will never happen. Once, knowledge of fact and an adversarial approach was the standard procedure by journalists. Now, journalists must toe the wired interests' line or be set free for replacement by compliant spokesmodels. Thus, the dumbing-down of the populace, who is too busy raising kids and paying bills to dig deeper for truth.

You got to hand it to them - the power brokers of this country long ago saw the problem of the press, and took steps to consolidate information control and message discipline.

Our only saving grace is the internet, which I don't think the power brokers foresaw back around the 60s, but even still it is only the tech-savvy and those with the time who can filter through it all and know the truth. That and the few, remaining established journalists who write/tell the truth, and who the power brokers cannot touch without a firestorm of noise, but who nonetheless hope for timely retirements so they can replace them with more compliant journalists.

Posted by: terraformer on July 19, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

I've pointed out before that there was no need to pay for No Child Left Behind as Bush didn't actually spend any money on it.

He set goals and did NOTHING to actually make meeting them realistic.

Entire budget for the program?: $25 - one whip.

Get cracking, lazy teachers and principals!

Leave NCLB out of the economic irresponsibility. NCLB is an entirely different kind of irresponsibility. Try to keep them straight. i know there are a lot of them.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on July 19, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

They lie because:
A. They have no choice -- the truth is against them.
B. They pay no penalty for doing so. None.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on July 19, 2010 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Thankfully Candy Crowley fact-checked Mitch.


Posted by: Ohioan on July 19, 2010 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

This is a case of there being lies, damned lies, and statistics. What was the deficit as a percentage of GDP in 2001? In 2008? Finally, the huge runup in the deficit this past year was due almost entirely to a collapse in tax receipts (people aren't making any money -- they're not paying much in taxes), not just the extra spending. Once you figure in the TARP expenditures (much of which the government will make back) and the auto industry bailout (in which the gov't also stands to make a good profit), which were Bush administration initiatives, something like 8-10% of the current deficit can be accounted to Obama.

Had we not had the Bush tax cuts, and two "off balance sheet wars", the federal budget would have been in pretty solid shape in 2008 and there would have been more than enough wiggle room for a massive stimulus package that didn't run up the debt too much. But that's not where we were thanks to a certain president that Republicans would like us to forget was running the country for eight years before Obama.

Posted by: jonas on July 19, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

jonas beat me to it, but the fact that the gdp numbers dropped due to the collapse of the bushco economy also factors into the percentage increase...

Posted by: dj spellcehcka on July 19, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

How does this message discipline work? Who decides what the message of the day is, then tells them all what to say?

Posted by: Jose Hipants on July 19, 2010 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK



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