A Real No-Brainer

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

The putative conservative at The New York Times urges conservatives in Congress to accept a budget deal offered by President Obama and the Democrats by citing elite opinion. That should be a red flag that the offer probably is a “no brainer,” although not in the way the cheerleading columnist utilizes the word.

“The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities,” David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column that appeared on July 4, 2011. “A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit.”

“But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.” As it turns out, Brooks’ own measurements were a bit off.  “An earlier version of this column misstated the amount of revenue increases needed in exchange for spending cuts,” it said in a July 5, 2011 correction. “It is a few hundred billion, not a few hundred million.”

Brooks upbraids conservatives for their intransigence: “The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill,” Brooks claims.  “They have agreed not to raise tax rates.”

“They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.” Not if you know your recent history.

“Congress is locked in yet another rending slugfest over tax increases,” the Heritage Foundation reported on November 14, 1983. “In one corner is Senate Finance Committee Chairman Robert Dole (R-Kan) who set off the bruising campaign last year that resulted in a $99 billion tax hike.”

“That package promised three dollars in budget cuts for every one dollar in tax increases. It turned out to be a lemon. The actual result was 21 cents in spending increases for every one dollar in tax hikes.”

President Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, made a similar miscalculation that may have hastened his retirement from the presidency when he lost his reelection bid. He too agreed to a budget deal with congressional Democrats, who at the time controlled both Houses of Congress.

In 1991, three economists scored that fateful budget deal in a study for the minority staff of the congressional Joint Economic Committee. “Concern about the effect of new taxes on the economy, or on the spending habits of public officials, was given short shrift by pragmatism,” they wrote. “The crowning triumph of this strategy was the 1990 budget agreement, which raised taxes $160 billion, supposedly to reduce the deficit.”

“However, the facts contained in this study and elsewhere show that Federal spending actually accelerated after the 1990 tax increases were enacted, and budget deficits have hit record levels.” In fact, they found that “domestic discretionary spending under Congressional control has actually accelerated under the budget agreement.”

“Between fiscal 1990 and 1991, domestic discretionary spending jumped from $182.5 billion to $199.8 billion, an increase of $17.3 billion, or 9.5 percent.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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