Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Deficit of Information

I was going to downsize the political posts on my blog, but I need to say something about a newspaper piece that I recently read.  On September 16, 2013, Peter Grier wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor titled “Obama: Deficits Falling at Fastest Rate since WWII. Is that true?”  The piece was following up this claim made by President Obama.  As the article mentions, the Congressional Budget Office says that “through the first 11 months of fiscal 2013, the budget deficit was down 35 percent from the comparable period of 2012.”

Grier’s article asks if what the President said was true, and answers: “Strictly speaking, yes.  The deficit is falling as rapidly as it has in decades. ... But ... one of the reasons it is falling so fast is that it shot up so high in the first place.”  Grier goes on to let the air out of Obama’s balloon: “In 2008, the deficit was about $458 billion.  In 2009, it rocketed up to $1.4 trillion.  It stayed above the trillion-dollar mark for 2010 through 2012.”  

And he quotes the director of the National Economic Council under George W. Bush as writing, “When the president proclaims that the deficit is shrinking at its fastest rate in decades, that’s the same as saying that the speed at which the nation is rolling backwards has decreased dramatically.”  The gist of Grier’s article is that the problems that caused the deficit are “far from solved,” and that Obama shouldn’t be taking credit for a declining deficit during his presidency when that deficit also increased so spectacularly during his presidency.  The tone of the article is definitely anti-Obama.

But in undercutting the President’s claim, Grier leaves out a crucial piece of information: he disparages the deficit shooting upwards in 2009 — without mentioning that the government’s Fiscal Year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, under President Bush.  And that a big chunk of the deficit was due to the Wall Street bailout that year.  Yes, the year’s fiscal spending also included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as “The Stimulus,” but as Wikipedia says: “The CBO estimated that ARRA increased the deficit by [only] $200 billion for 2009, split evenly between tax cuts and additional spending, excluding any feedback effects on the economy.”

For Grier not to mention that the Obama Administration wasn’t responsible for the entire $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009, and for his article not to mention the Bush presidency or the bailout at all, strikes me as extremely disingenuous.  And if Grier were to defend his article by saying that he was only looking at the calendar year of 2009 and not Fiscal Year 2009, that’s still intellectually dishonest.

And so, our political discourse totters along.

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