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Posted at 6:28 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Towards better budget hawks

By Ezra Klein

It's not just Rep. Paul Ryan who's been facing criticism for receiving an award for fiscal responsibility despite making a series of fiscally irresponsible decisions. The triumvirate of deficit-hawk organizations that gave out the award -- the Comeback Coalition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Concord Coalition -- are under fire, too. “This award basically ended up demonstrating that the various groups behind the award are themselves deeply unserious, more interested in posturing than in real policy," wrote Paul Krugman.

Harsh words. But there's an easy way for these groups to quiet such critiques: Treat the question of whether someone is a deficit hawk as a math problem rather than a subjective judgment.

All of these groups release dozens and dozens of graphs every week. They know full well that the best way to judge a policy proposal is to put the numbers down on paper and then convert them into some form that makes it easy to recognize patterns and assess outcomes. Sometimes, the numbers say what you thought they were saying. But, importantly, sometimes they don't. That's why we go through the trouble of using Excel, which seems to have been designed by people who wanted to punish us. Or at least me.

When it comes to judging politicians, however, all that empirical rigor goes out the window. It doesn't need to. Just as the AFL-CIO keeps track of how politicians vote on questions that are important to organized labor and the Chamber of Commerce keeps track of how politicians vote on issues of importance to the Chamber of Commerce, the deficit hawk groups should record the way every member of Congress votes on bills of importance to the deficit. Use the CBO's numbers, put them into a spreadsheet, and soon enough you'll be able to show whether this or that politician has been fiscally responsible or fiscally irresponsible over the last year -- and your metric will be whether they voted responsibly, not whether they spoke responsibly. Then you can give your awards out on merit, and they'd be very difficult to question.

By Ezra Klein  | January 10, 2011; 6:28 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Next: Reconciliation

Comments

Fair enough. But Krugman's point is that "nobody really cares about the deficit." There are no deficit hawks. Only peacocks.

Posted by: jtmiller42 | January 10, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Great job in last 2 posts. Please keep it up and thanks for continuing to expose the whole charade which goes in your town.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 10, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Why would you imagine ever doing that? No doubt, this year's winner of the new fiscy is some light-blue dog whose looking for work hundreds of miles away from Washington. Giving out such an award would not advance the cause of deficit reduction. Given the award to Mr Ryan doesn't do that much for your cause either, but at least you'll get talked about and invited to parties.

Posted by: windshouter | January 10, 2011 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Most liberals are deficit peacocks, or else they would support my proposal to immediately abolish the Medicaid program.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 9:36 PM | Report abuse

You act like these groups aren't just interested in a right wing agenda. They aren't going to award their "Fiscy" to Dennis Kucinich just because his policies are deficit friendly.

Posted by: flounder2 | January 10, 2011 9:42 PM | Report abuse

This is a fantastic idea. Liberals often criticize libertarians for supporting the GOP despite major conflicts between the party's actions and the libertarian ideology. The deficit is one of the few places where policy can be somewhat objectively measured.

Posted by: Chris_ | January 10, 2011 10:12 PM | Report abuse

It's depressing. "Starve the beast" is a failed strategy. The tax cuts are a stain on sanity.

Of course, Krugman's policy recommendations are worse on the deficit, so maybe it's all relative?

Posted by: staticvars | January 10, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Using scientific data collection to do political science - I like it.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | January 11, 2011 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Out of curiosity - by that metric, who would be the most fiscally responsible congresspersons?

Posted by: sanchk | January 12, 2011 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I of course am referring to the metrics that you detail in your post.

Posted by: sanchk | January 12, 2011 11:59 PM | Report abuse

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