Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Doug Elmendorf calls out the American people

David Wessel notices CBO director Doug Elmendorf giving a nice, single-sentence summation of our country's coming bankruptcy:

The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services.

I'd add one thing: The Founding Fathers were hardly unfamiliar with the idea that the vox populi might not prove the steadiest hand on the national till. That's why we have representatives rather than referenda. The problem is that our representatives are not doing what representatives were supposed to do: informing themselves on the issues and the tradeoffs, and making hard decisions and then explaining them to the public.

That may be because the public will vote them out of office, or because the other party won't give them sufficient cover. But the country is in a bad way when public incoherence is matched by political cowardice. One test to know when that's happening? The minority leader is holding tea parties. It's one thing for politicians to worry about facing the mob. It's a whole other for them to become the mob.

By Ezra Klein  |  November 11, 2009; 5:12 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Four ways to end the filibuster
Next: Tab dump

Comments

Ironically, the U.S. Senate was supposed to be the counterbalance to the House's susceptibility to mob mentality.

One doesn't quite know whether to laugh or cry.

Posted by: Mike_Russo | November 11, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I live in Los Angeles, and let me tell you folks, the future is California, for better or worse. Out here, we have a toxic combination of Prop 13, which subsidizes existing homeowners with undertaxation, along with archaic procedural roadblocks where once again the minority (GOP) is able to play the role of nihilistic crank, gutting public services and refusing to make the painful yet necessary decision to raise taxes while Rome burns. Sound familiar?

But guess what! Soon all of you are going to join us! It oughta be fun to watch, at least.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 11, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Great. Elmendorf and Ezra are now spouting Republican talking points, and the Republicans are having a circus.

The truth is Congress has consistently failed to properly fund Social Security and instead spent the money on wars, tax cuts for the rich, and Wall Street bailouts. It is outrageous that the solution now being discussed--even by self-described progressives--is to cut benefits.

The situation with Medicare is a little more nuanced, but again we're in a lot of trouble if the so-called progressive position is that an excise tax on middle class benefits should be the primary fix.

Posted by: bmull | November 11, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Elmendorf is seriously overstepping his bounds. The whole point of the CBO is to provide unbiased, non-partisan information and estimates. By using his office as a bully pulpit to spread his opinions he's subverting that.

If he wants to offer opinions he can become a pundit or run for office.

Posted by: alex50 | November 11, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/stock-market-news-story.aspx?storyid=200911101125dowjonesdjonline000332&title=senswont-vote-to-lift-debt-ceiling-without-action-on-spending

This is awesome! I'm totally going to buy gold futures, because Sens. Feinstein and Bayh have decided its a good idea to play silly political games with the debt ceiling!!! Hahahahaha. This country is going to find out what a currency collapse looks like. Should be interesting.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | November 11, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that Elmendorf's comments are befitting of his position. After all, his job is to analyze the budget. If he didn't notice that Congress and the public find it easy to spend money and hard to either reduce spending or raise revenue, I'd be worried. It's not partisan at all to note that.

Posted by: etdean1 | November 11, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

easy solution to SS. Eliminate the ceiling on contributions. Warren Buffet should pay more in social security taxes than someone making 106k/yr. Medicare is a tougher nut to crack, but comparative effectiveness research is a start in the right direction. Wouldn't medicare for all help the system by bringing in more younger healthier people?

Posted by: srw3 | November 11, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Elmendorf is totally within his rights to state that taxes are out of line with the services expected by citizens. That is a fact, not an opinion. Now may not be the best time to rapidly cut government spending or raise taxes, but you can't argue with Elmendorf's statement.

Ezra, on the other hand, tries to tie this to the rabid right-wing elements in our country being explicitly supported by the GOP. The fact is, neither party is doing much to address this issue right now. I suppose you could say conservative populism is all about taxes, but I'd say it has more to do with opposing Democratic (particularly Obama's) policies than anything else.

Posted by: spsarath | November 11, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse


The more entitlement programs we add, the greater the burden of taxation, and the less likely the economy can grow out of the deficit. Whether you agree or not, to some people taxation is essentially coercion by the government and/or curbing of individual freedom. In terms of deficits/debts, great nations and empires have declined in power due to the weight of their sovereign debts.

The Democrats and Republicans both exacerbate the problem of debts, of course.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | November 11, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse


More taxation to fund social security is nonsense - why do you want to decrease incentives for hard work, savings, and investments through distortions? So is the assumption of robust population growth that has luckily helped fund the pay-as-you-go philosophy (ponzi scheme?) a bunch of nonsense.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | November 11, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Political cowardice?

With the Republican politicians it's much more stupidity and a hostility to thinking. It's much easier in my position to just come out and clearly say that truth than it is for you in your position, but the Republican party has been taken over by zealots who are impervious to thinking and evidence. They strangle and bankrupt the country much more because their unthinking soundbite dogmanomics says tax cuts for the rich, as big as you can get, trillions and trillions, always good, tax increases and government, not matter what the situation, always bad, ugh, ugh.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Ken Rogoff appeared on Charlie Rose last night, and offered a very informative view of this situation, with superior perspective.

http://www.charlierose.com/

The interview is on top at the moment (so watch it now), and later this evening will dissapear for some unknown period of time until it becomes available in archive.

Posted by: HalHorvath | November 11, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

--"The minority leader is holding tea parties. It's one thing for politicians to worry about facing the mob. It's a whole other for them to become the mob."--

Ezra Klein, the political science major who never heard of a politician at a political protest rally, and who characterizes people protesting *against* mob rule (socialist health care *is* mob rule, government takeovers of banks *is* mob rule, government setting salaries in the private sector *is* mob rule, etc., it's all the tyranny of the majority or the mob, if you will) as being a mob. It's dishonest, it's puerile, and it's a disgrace.

Posted by: msoja | November 11, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

I should add that it's also very much so an affinity for the rich and a desire to get the huge rewards for serving them well. Look at the gigantic pay Republican politicians get rewarded with by the rich after leaving their offices from lobbying firms and propaganda mill "think tanks".

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

RichardSerlin,

so wait, Democrats don't have lobbying firms? Its solely republicans???

How about these fellows:

http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2009/03/raided-lobby-fi.html

or these:

http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2009/07/several-lobbying-firms-enjoyed.html


lots of Democrats on there.

And how much money is Gore making from his enviormental push being made? He's going to be the first "green billionaire" and no one talks about it.

The truth of this article is that Elmendorf is 100% correct and people need to wake up to spending. Sure we can raise taxes and soon the Bush Tax cuts will be gone for good. Then when we still have furloughs and high unemployment and state's going bankrupt who will we blame then?

Maybe people should pay attention to the budget committee hearing that was on CSPAN yesterday on the national debt. It was bipartisan and it was very telling:

http://www.cspan.org/Watch/Media/2009/11/10/HP/A/25768/Senate+Budget+Cmte+Hearing+on+the+National+Debt.aspx


In 10 years at the current pace of spending INTEREST on the debt alone will be $800 Billion A YEAR. Not total, EACH AND EVERY YEAR. Sure we need to tax a bit more but we need to stop spending too. Only a combination of the two will work. Democrats and Republicans agree on this. We need balanced budgets on the Federal government like we have in states. That means healthcare, war funding, EVERYTHING.

No more pet projects for anyone. No more earmarks for anyone.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 11, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

In contrast to msoja, I thought your last few sentences were awesomely written and absolutely on point. You might want to consider adopting a pen name before too much time passes. Ezra Twain? Maybe Will Klein?

Posted by: joemken | November 11, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

--"Look at the gigantic pay Republican politicians get rewarded with"--

Of the twenty five richest members in Congress, ten are Repugs.

http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/overview.php?type=W&year=2008

Your populist blowhards are milking it for all they're worth.

Posted by: msoja | November 11, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

It's true that many Democratic congress people cash in when leaving office, but it is more prevalent among the Republicans, and the income appears to be less a payment for rare high skill than a large and conspicuous payout to let other Republicans know what they can get if they please their rich sponsors.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in a recent post:

One important pillar of conservative political dominance, I believe, is the phenomenon sometimes called “wingnut welfare”: loyalists are always assured of decent employment, no matter how badly they perform. Paul Wolfowitz may fail miserably, twice; but there’s a chair waiting for him at AEI. Rick Santorum may talk about man on dog, and lose in a landslide; but there’s a job waiting for him as head of the “America’s Enemies” program at a movement conservative think tank.

End Quote

At: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/the-end-of-welfare-as-we-know-it/

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | November 11, 2009 11:21 PM | Report abuse

--"[I]t is more prevalent among the Republicans"--

Unsubstantiated. And it's not a far contention that just two contentionists, Al Gore and Bill Clinton (with Hillary, two-fer-one), outweigh a great bulk of the opposite contenders all lumped together.

ps. Krugman is a liar and incompetent of world class proportions, in case you didn't know, and, no doubt, the money he took from Enron in exchange for favorable press has long been spent.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse

It is commentator like 'bmull' who are in the end lost cause - never bothering what we are spending and what we are collecting.

I do not think Ezra is talking here to cut benefits. He is simply pointing out the reality that whatever benefits (whether small or unevenly distributed, that is besides the point) Fed is dolling out; we are not collecting enough for that. If there is a limit to what we can 'collect'; there has to be a limit to what we 'give'. That is a simple logic, as simple as it can get. Refusal of this logic or not employing at all this logic while passing laws - what can be that apart from dereliction of duty? Then who cares whether Ezra is sounding like Republicans or whether he is trying to bring Dems to senses?

As they say - first step in solving the eventual problem is to recognize the existence of the problem. For too long this country is drunk on the cool aid of 'deficits do not matter' (even though all of Fed bond auctions are racking in record bids in recent days).

BTW - how good to read that once in a while Ezra is ready to descend from his tall and glittering Ivory Tower to mingle with some rowdy, uncouth commoners like me!

Posted by: umesh409 | November 12, 2009 1:36 AM | Report abuse

I don't think I've ever seen a "conservative" proposal for cutting enough spending to actually close the gap. You say you can do it while lowering taxes? Show me the numbers. Not "waste fraud and abuse" or imaginary future economic growth either. That may have fooled some people in 1980 but not anymore. Real cuts.

Posted by: tl_houston | November 12, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

""The minority leader is holding tea parties." Huh? So the problem is that Republicans won't raise taxes, just like California. How about the problem that Republicans _and_ Democrats won't cut spending, just like California. That would make Tea Parties the solution. The real mob rule is when zillions of people (including some super-rich ones who won't lose either), decide that everyone else should pay for everything on their wish list.
Isn't it true that California's budget would be balanced if their spending was the same as in 2000?
Just make me dictator. I assure you that I can balance the budget without raising taxes. I'm afraid it would increase the unemployment rate as well...

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 12, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Oops, sorry: Tl_houston wants specifics. He doesn't understand that conservatives think that there are jobs that the federal government should not be running; leave them to local government to handle. Okay, the Department of Education's budget is close to $160 billion total this year, and it is pretty much a total waste. Not a bad start. I'm sure I could find more if I were dictator.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 12, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

tl_houston,

and most conservatives that are honest will tell you that it needs to be a good mix of tax increases and reduced spending. No one other than politicians says "no tax increases". The reality is though that the defecit problem is so bad that just repealing the Bush tax cuts isn't enough. It needs to be MORE. Especially in a bad economy with less tax receipts coming in. At some point both sides need to be accountable.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 12, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

--No one other than politicians says "no tax increases".--

I do. I'm not and never will be a politician.

Spending has to be cut. I say, round up Obama's cabinet heads (and the czars, too, while you're at it) and get some stalwart Washington (George) sized fellow to see how far he can throw them across the Potomac. And then send all their underlings packing. It would be a start.


Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"there are jobs that the federal government should not be running; leave them to local government to handle"

Excellent idea, now tell us how to get people to pay higher taxes to run their local government.

"Okay, the Department of Education's budget is close to $160 billion total this year, and it is pretty much a total waste."

It's telling that education is the first, and often the only thing that comes to mind when right-wingers think about cutting spending. Of course, spending more money on the military than the rest of the world combined does not qualify as a total "waste", neither do oil industry subsidies (which the Republicans successfully prevented from being cut), subsidies to the financial industries, to agribusiness, etc.

Posted by: carbonneutral | November 12, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

In any case, that $160 billion is less than 10% of the deficit, even assuming that dumping it on the states makes it go away. Hint: the deficit is considerably larger than the entire discretionary portion of the budget. So what are conservatives going to cut out of defense, Social Security, Medicare, and interest on debt?

Posted by: tl_houston | November 12, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

alright I'll adjust my post.

NO SANE PERSON SAYS NO TAX INCREASES.

Listen tax increases should be a fact of life just like wage increases, cost of living, etc. It should keep a fairly even pace. Heck that's why we're all here for the last 6 months to a year and we're having this healthcare crisis we're in. It's been going up 3x inflation. if it was at inflation and mostly everyone was covered then we'd be worrying about something else.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 12, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"It's telling that education is the first, and often the only thing that comes to mind when right-wingers think about cutting spending." Wrong. I'm not in favor of cutting spending on education. I'm in favor of the federal government cutting spending on education, since I think it makes things worse. I personally wouldn't have to pay anything more locally, since my kids are currently in a private school that doesn't get federal grants. Others would have to pay more locally, but even that's okay. We are trying to fix the federal budget here. And I believe more people would be happier with their kids' schooling under more local control.

"In any case, that $160 billion is less than 10% of the deficit." Uh, no. You seem to be counting the Stimulus bills as part of the standard deficit. If you let me rule, I will take the rest of the Stimulus back and use it to decrease the deficit. Till this year, the usual deficit was less than half of this year's. You'd need more cuts than the DoE, but it might be a third of what you need. A few more subsidies and such would do it.
Honestly, I imagine that 75% of the federal budget is a bad idea. The only reason I mentioned education was that conservatives tend to feel that the DoE is a _total_ loss, as opposed to other departments which are just mostly waste.
I have no problem with cutting defense spending, and pretty much everything else you mentioned. I imagine that at least 50% of people holding federal jobs are not doing anything useful; that is standard in bureaucracies. As I said, I would cause an immediate increase in unemployment. I have zero interest in the standard Republican spending list, and it seems that a hefty percentage of "Tea Partiers" feel the same way. That's why so many independents are changing sides now - we care more about rational budgeting than any other current issue, because we think the current trend will kill us. Democrats have to be crazy (or in quasi-religious fervor) to be trying to pass health-care reform right now. If they had waited quietly till the economy had recovered, we conservatives would have been sunk.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 12, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

--"[T]ax increases should be a fact of life just like wage increases, cost of living, etc. It should keep a fairly even pace."--

You mean like 10% of $100 is slightly higher than 10% of $90? Or do you mean the tax that's 10% this year should be 11% next year? Either way, you're WaPo blogger material. Seriously.

If you want to stop the 3X increase in health care costs, get the government out of the health care business. You don't get the government out (and it doesn't look like we're going to) then you can count on soaring costs until the thing just simply collapses and nobody has health care.

Government has destroyed the vaccine market. It took about two decades to do it. How long do you think it will take to wreck the rest of the health care industry?

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

MikeR4: "Others would have to pay more locally, but even that's okay. We are trying to fix the federal budget here."

No it's not okay. You are advocating shifting cost from the federal to the local level. That is not cost saving. And "fixing the federal budget" is really beside the point when local government is so underfunded that in many places, the most basic services have to be cut and desperately needed teachers, bus drivers etc. are losing their jobs. You are just another right-wing hypocrite who sweet talks about the need to strengthen "local control" but would be the last to vote for a local tax increase to provide the necessary funding for that.

Posted by: carbonneutral | November 12, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

"If you want to stop the 3X increase in health care costs, get the government out of the health care business. You don't get the government out (and it doesn't look like we're going to) then you can count on soaring costs until the thing just simply collapses and nobody has health care."

Just like in France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Canada, and all the rest, where after generations of government meddling, costs are half as high as in the US and everybody has health care. Nothing collapsed except msoja's idiotic argument. How long can a right-wing extremist go on chanting "2+2=5" and not be embarrassed? Apparently indefinitely.

Posted by: carbonneutral | November 12, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

"local government is so underfunded that in many places, the most basic services have to be cut and desperately needed teachers, bus drivers etc. are losing their jobs." To repeat, the issue here is that the federal government is going bankrupt. If local governments need to make cuts _or_ raise taxes, I'm in favor. As I said, they can cut their bureaucracies and no one will miss them. Let them work it out. The more local it gets, the better chance there is that the local people will get what they want. Let the people in Smalltown USA figure out how to pay for their schools and police; that's what they have traditionally done, and done okay. California is a non-federal example of what happens when someone else tries to run people's schools. When I was growing up, it had among the best schools in the nation. Jesse Unruh took them over, and now they are among the worst. "Desperately needed teachers" are losing their jobs, because in California you cannot fire the most egregiously incompetent teachers or education administrators, period.

"You are just another right-wing hypocrite who sweet talks about the need to strengthen "local control" but would be the last to vote for a local tax increase to provide the necessary funding for that." Nice. I am not responsible for the fact that you cannot understand any point of view but your own.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 12, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

--"Just like in France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Canada, and all the rest [...]"--

We aren't France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Canada, or any of the rest. Our costs are not going to fall in the slightest with health care reform. A few dimwits talk about "bending the cost curve" but that translates as a lick and prayer.

I wish people would conduct their own excellent economic experiments with their own damn money.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

--"the most basic services have to be cut and desperately needed teachers, bus drivers etc. are losing their jobs"--

Good. The socialist school system should be completely scrapped, along with its funding mechanisms. First, the taxes extracted from the citizenry in order to pay for bloated, expensive, ineffective schools are killing communities. Second, the schools aren't getting their primary job done. The whole thing is another colossal government failure, and should be left to the private market.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"California is a non-federal example of what happens when someone else tries to run people's schools. When I was growing up, it had among the best schools in the nation."

And then Californians decided they didn't like to provide the funding that good schools need any more. They decided to bankrupt local government by making it impossible to raise taxes. Result, California is now a failed state. Just like msoja, you keep chanting "2+2=5". You will find out that reality is not going to conform to your fantasy ideology.

Before you fire another salvo of your warped logic at us, would you mind answering my point about oil industry subsidies. Do you agree with the GOP support for subsidizing the oil industry with billions of dollars yearly, yes or no?

Posted by: carbonneutral | November 12, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

"Do you agree with the GOP support for subsidizing the oil industry with billions of dollars yearly, yes or no?" No. Why would you assume I do? (I would, however, be in favor of removing regulatory barriers to oil exploration, and nuclear power.)

"And then Californians decided they didn't like to provide the funding that good schools need any more. They decided to bankrupt local government by making it impossible to raise taxes." Can I assume you're not from California? You skipped what I actually said. Jesse Unruh killed the school system, by instituting centralized control in the '60s. That was a good decade before Proposition 13.

Posted by: MikeR4 | November 12, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

--"Do you agree with the GOP support for subsidizing the oil industry with billions of dollars yearly, yes or no?"--

Subidies? No. Tax breaks? Everyone should have tax breaks. And MikeR4 is correct on regulation and exploration. It's a crime that U.S. oil is not being brought out of the ground. And nukes is good.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

--"Just like msoja, you keep chanting "2+2=5"."--

You're the one with a failed education system and nothing but the same answer in dealing with it: More government. You'd think that after half a century of pounding more government into everything, and those things only getting worse and worse, you'd try to come up with a different answer. Education is going down, down, down, and it's not because of the free market. It's because socialism does not work. It's failure. It's always failure. It always will be failure.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

The New York Daily News is reporting today:

"During their first math class at one of CUNY's four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn't solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found. Only a third could convert a fraction into a decimal."

It's interesting to think that the public education system could be abolished, and math skills wouldn't get any worse.

Posted by: msoja | November 12, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Trouble is that both parties suffer from the disconnect. Republicans insist on lowering taxes without lowering spending and Democrats insist on raising spending without raising taxes and no one has the luxury of actually dealing honestly.

Posted by: PhD9 | November 13, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Billions of dollars of annual subsidies to the oil industry? Please elaborate, and include a definition of "subsidy".

Posted by: tl_houston | November 13, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

"to some people taxation is essentially coercion by the government and/or curbing of individual freedom"

OK. I'd like to ask that if they feel that way they simply decline the benefits taxation provides. They could, for example, go live in an abandoned school bus in Alaska until they starve to death rather than taking social security and medicare and driving to their tea parties on OUR taxpayer financed roads.

Posted by: ducksworthy | November 13, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

--"They could, for example, go live in an abandoned school bus in Alaska until they starve to death rather than taking social security and medicare and driving to their tea parties on OUR taxpayer financed roads."--

A little hyperbolic, but it illustrates (among other things) nicely the degree to which the government has insisted on making itself "indespensible". Like the guy from the mob, selling "protection".

The gas tax, since you bring it up, the one included in every gallon of gas, is the least offensive of taxes out there. At least it has some reference to its intended use. Of course, it follows that putting responsibility for our roads in government hands is as stupid as putting responsibility for our health care in government hands. The private sector would do a better job. Privatize the roads, I say.

As to social security and medicare, I daresay that if the government didn't FORCE people to fund the things, few would be inclined to demand their continuence, i.e., they wouldn't be necessary, and no one would starve to death despite the earnestness of those who wish they would.

Posted by: msoja | November 13, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Term limits for congress, please.

Posted by: ccs4756 | November 13, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company