Posted by: mutantpoodle | March 27, 2009

Budget, Schmudget

GOP Budget Deficit Graph

GOP Budget Deficit Graph

Ezra Klein calls the House Republicans budget proposal something that “reads like what would happen if The Onion put together a budget.”

Frankly, the Onion might have put in one or two more numbers.

Watching John Boehner tout this 19 page (19 whole pages, folks!) “budget” which was largely a diatribe against Barack Obama and the “Democrat” party, I was caught between shock at the rank incompetence of the exercise (apparently Eric Cantor, who I think of as sort of a dim bulb, thought it was dumb to release their “plan” now, and Representative Paul Ryan, the GOP’s budget “expert”, didn’t sign the document), and reassured, in a perverse way, by its gross over-simplification of the issues and its rank dishonesty.

Example 1 (again, from Klein):

The health care section, for instance, says that Democrats propose “nearly $1 trillion” in health care spending as a “downpayment” on reform. The actual number is $634 billion, which someone who’s more familiar with, you know, numbers, might have characterized as “more than $600 billion,” or, alternately, “$634 billion.” The Republicans say that “the prime focus of [the Democrats] agenda is the establishment of a government-run health insurance plan,” a policy idea that doesn’t appear in the President’s budget. They say that the Lewin Group has analyzed this policy that doesn’t exist and found that it will force three out of four Americans onto government-run health care (the Lewin Group analyzed the Economic Policy Institute’s proposal, which is not the President’s budget). And so on, and so forth.

Or look at the chart above, which demonstrates the fiscal responsibility of the Republicans as opposed to those free-spending Democrats.

Except, of course, that (a) the huge pop in fiscal 2009 came in before Obama was President, and (b) Obama’s budget includes things like, you know, the two wars we’re fighting, while the Republican’s historical numbers do not. (I like, too, that their numbers start in 2004, rather than 2000, which would show how responsible Republicans were when they controlled the levers of government.)

Now, in fairness to the GOP, they do have actual numbers in their budget. Here they are:

Republicans propose a simple and fair tax code with a marginal tax rate for income up to $100,000 of 10 percent and 25 percent for any income thereafter, with a generous standard deduction and personal exemption.

I’m surprised that we don’t all get lollipops and ponies as well.

More amazing than the ridiculousness of this “proposal” was that the media, usually so susceptible to Republican talking points, wasn’t buying any of it.

Later, Indiana’s Mike Pence was asked what the deficit numbers might be under the Republican proposal, and he danced around the question like Bojangles Robinson. Because, of course, when the only actual number in your proposal is a deficit-exploding tax cut, the last thing you want is an apples to apples deficit comparison. (Some day, soon the Republican proposal will get scored, and it won’t be pretty.)

Lots of lefty bloggers have been making fun of the visual summaries the Republicans put together. For example:

GOP Recovery DiagramBecause it really is just that simple.

I mock, but really – doesn’t the calamitous situation we find ourselves in call for something other than juvenile posturing? I don’t have any great emotional investment in the resurrection of the Republican party, but I am interested in thoughtful challenges to whoever is in power. I might disagree with those challenges, but no good idea got weaker after a strenuous debate.

But this isn’t a debate. Their budget isn’t a budget. (I used to put together budgets every year, and had I presented anything to my bosses like what the GOP issued yesterday, I’d have been fired, and rightly so.) Increasingly, we have a debate between ideology and pragmatism. In yesterday’s Times, Nick Kristof wrote about the failure of experts, and quoted UC Berkeley Professor Philip Tetlock, who has tracked experts and their predictions over two decades.

Mr. Tetlock called experts such as these the “hedgehogs,” after a famous distinction by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (my favorite philosopher) between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.

Perhaps the GOP has found its new identity: The Party of Hedgehogs.

Oh – and the date when the House republicans will release the “details” of their “budget”? April 1, 2009. The unintentional self-parody continues.


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