Saturday, June 19, 2010

I've got your deficit reduction right here

The Senate this week defeated a package of domestic aid programs for fears that it would further increase the federal deficit.

As the Washington Post reported, "Even the state aid that Obama last week called critical to preventing the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other government workers is foundering. After days of talks, frustrated Democratic leaders in the Senate failed again Thursday to muster the 60 votes needed to approve the cash and left town for the weekend with no clear path forward."

"Fiscal stimulus "is not a particularly effective strategy. So let's just stop," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former CBO director who advised Republican Sen. John McCain presidential campaign."

Yes, and I suppose prosperity is just around corner, provided that we let the free market work its magic? Republicans are apparently channeling Herbert Hoover, whose belief that we should just let the Depression run its course caused GDP to fall nearly 30% in the three years following the stock market crash. President Roosevelt by contrast did not see the federal deficit as a reason to curtail demand-side economic stimulus. As a result, by late in FDR's first term GDP was back to pre-Depression levels.

Actually, Democratic Barney Frank of Massachusetts is leading the charge on some serious deficit reduction, and I hope he succeeds.

First, some context. The following is not a typo:
US Defense spending 2001: $366 billion
US Defense spending 2011: $929 billion

Yes, among the many ways in which 9-11 was a godsend to conservatives is the fact that we have nearly tripled defense spending in a decade. Here's another interesting statistic: We spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The panel commissioned by Congressman Frank is recommending nearly $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget during the next 10 years, principally by reducing the nation's nuclear arsenal and our overseas presence while eliminating unneeded weapons programs.

The Frank panel including some Republicans, so its recommendations might have some hope of getting past the Republican policy of "stop all Democratic proposals by any means necessary." Let's hope so.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Do Republicans lie? Well, no more than journalists

"Americans wanted jobs, but instead Washington passed a "stimulus" that has failed to keep unemployment below 8 percent as promised." These are the words of a Republican California congressman as trumpeted by a recent article on For more than a year I've heard this same claim, not just from conservative sources but also from some that are allegedly unbiased. But as Mark Twain said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

America's employment stats are compiled by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a chart of unemployment is available here. Here are the unemployment numbers for the time frame I'll be discussing in this post:
11/08: 6.5%
12/08: 7.1%
01/09: 8.5%
02/09: 8.9%
01/10: 10.6%
04/10: 9.5%

Now here's a little history on President Obama's 2009 stimulus package, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. When Republicans refer to the President's "promise" that the stimulus would keep unemployment at a certain level, they are (to quote Politifact):

"referring to a Jan. 9, 2009, report called "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" from Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, the vice president's top economic adviser.

Their report projected that the stimulus plan proposed by Obama would create between three and four million jobs by the end of 2010. The report also includes a graphic predicting unemployment rates with and without the stimulus. Without the stimulus (the baseline), unemployment was projected to hit about 8.5 percent in 2009 and then continue rising to a peak of about 9 percent in 2010. With the stimulus, they predicted the unemployment rate would peak at just under 8 percent in 2009."

So let's presume that when the report was published, the authors had up-to-the-minute statistics. That means that they would have been working with the December 2008 unemployment rate of 7.1%. The report the Obama team wrote suggested that with the stimulus plan, unemployment would rise about one percent more before economic recovery would begin to bring it down again. This prediction was essentially accurate, since unemployment peaked in early 2010 at a rate about one percent higher than where it stood when the stimulus bill was signed into law in late February 2009.

There's a lot to criticize about the stimulus bill. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and many economists have gone on record stating that the bill has in fact reduced unemployment. And the Obama administration's record on job creation and stimulating economic recovery is inarguable. When Obama took office, the country was losing nearly one million jobs per month. Growth in GDP for the last full quarter that Bush was in office was a staggering  minus 5.4%. Today, the country is creating jobs and growth in GDP for the most recent quarter was a robust 3.2%.

These encouraging numbers have not stopped Republicans from lying about the stimulus bill and what the Obama team claimed it would do. Republican Congressman Eric Cantor: "We were promised, the president said we would keep unemployment under 8.5 percent." Republican Congressman Mike Pence: "The so-called stimulus bill that has taken us from 7.5 percent employment [sic] to nearly 10 percent unemployment nationwide."

Ok, I expect Republican Congressmen to lie. But unfortunately, some mainstream media sources are playing the same tune. According to a 2009 LA Times article, the stimulus bill could be said to be missing its employment targets, because Obama's advisors had claimed "that with the stimulus spending, the U.S. unemployment rate this year would not exceed 8%. It now stands at 9.4%." The same goes for Time magazine, which published this ridiculously misleading article entitled, Obama's Stimulus Plan, Failing by Its Own Measure. Once again, it's the same patently false claim: that Obama's advisors "predicted that the passage of a large economic-aid package would boost the economy and keep the unemployment rate below 8%. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Last month, the jobless rate in the U.S. hit 9.5%"

The Obama administration needs to combat these lies; not with words but with action. The nation is long overdue for a serious jobs bill: one that will use federal dollars to hire the unemployed to rebuild the country's infrastructure. The Works Progress Administration, for example, puts millions to work in the late 1930's. If we can afford to spend half a billion dollars every day in Iraq, we can afford to rebuild America's highways, railroads, bridges, parks and schools.