A better way to test deficit credentials
Matt Yglesias makes a great point on the way the media's faith in a given politician's deficit-fighting credentials is completely unrelated to the actual impact their votes would have on the deficit:
I think larger issue here is the perverse framing of deficit issues. If Mitch McConnell were sponsoring a bill to cut taxes on rich people and cut spending by an equal amount, I bet no moderate Democrats would find that tempting. And if Mitch McConnell were sponsoring a bill to cut taxes on rich people and raise taxes on the middle class by an equal amount, I bet no moderate Democrats would find that tempting either.
But of course a permanent reduction in rich people’s taxes implies reductions in spending or higher taxes on the middle class. And the media never—never—frames a division within the Democratic caucus as pitting spendthrift moderates like Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson against deficit hawk liberals like Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer even though this is the precise divide that opens up whenever Bush-era tax policies are on the table.
There's a way to fix this: Some respected group that focuses on deficit or truth-in-politics issues -- maybe the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, or Politifact.com -- should put together a list of every vote taken in the past, say, 15 years that the CBO scored as having more than $200 billion for the federal deficit. Then every federal legislator's voting record should be matched up, and they should get a score. Actually, more than a score. They should get a number: The amount by which their votes would've changed the total deficit over that period.
I'd guess that legislators like Bernie Sanders would actually come out looking better than some expect, but maybe not. And that would be the point: Deficit hawkery is something we can actually measure. We don't need to rely on press releases. Frankly, if the president's fiscal commission created funding for an independent group that did just this, it'd probably cut hundreds of billions off the long-term deficit.
September 10, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
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