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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 -- 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.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 10, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The health-care reform bill's empty promises, and their curious fullness
Next: Reconciliation


I guess it's too late to sic Dylan Matthews on this, eh?

Posted by: jeirvine | September 10, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Is there an easy way to see what the deficit impact (as estimated by the CBO, say) is for individual bills? Is this all kept in one place somewhere?

Posted by: FormerSwingVoter | September 10, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

$200 billion is WAY too high. The political battle du jour is Obama's $50 billion dollar infrastructure proposal with $50 billion dollar offsets. It won't even show up in your measure. I'd think any issue with more than a combined $10 billion dollars in spending and tax changes should be part of the measure. If only somebody worked at a major newspaper in the nation's capital and could implement such a measure instead of, say, giving Dana Milbank a paycheck to write who is more like a dog and who is more like a cat.

Posted by: jamusco | September 10, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Yglesias has something on his mind beyond parking, barbers and deleting annoying comments?

Posted by: pj_camp | September 10, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

The worst deficit going on here is the deficit of character. Klein continues to make excuses for the lie he peddled -- that Obamacare would "bend the cost curve down". The president said today that of course he knew it would cost more to insure millions of uninsured. Yet the very people who said that these past months were smeared on his behalf, as racists. On this very website.

Posted by: truck1 | September 10, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse


I don't know of any place where this is consolidated in the way that Ezra talks about.

You could use to find out which bills have been voted on/passed the House/Senate. If you click on a specific bill, you can find CBO scores where applicable and roll call votes under "major congressional actions".

Posted by: js4981 | September 12, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

these tax cuts were in 2001 and 2003 start with who voted for and against them,
then look at spending like the unfunded drug bill bush and the republicans pushed through
this bill gave the drug companies billions of dollars of guaranteed profit at the expense of taxpayers. look at defense projects like unneeded warships and planes or mobile artillery systems the military did not ask for, the osprey helicopter failure and billions of dollars in other unneeded spending, see who voted to give billions of dollars to oil companies and coal companies who supported sending jobs offshore, look at these votes to see who led America to bankruptcy

Posted by: 7trumpets | September 15, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

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