No Ezra, The Deficit Isn’t A Distraction: It’s A Subterfuge

Over at his own blog, Ezra Klein asks if opponents of health care reform are using the deficit as, in his words, “a distraction.” He notes that many of those who are complaining about the costs of a health care reform plan (which is actually deficit neutral) have voted in the past for other major policy changes, like Medicare Part D, that weren’t offset and so made the deficit situation much worse.

Ezra followed up that post with another today quoting Howard Gleckman, who asked how it was possible for the same members of Congress to be so concerned about the deficit implications of health care reform but also support the far more expensive extension of the Bush tax cuts when they expire at the end of 2010.

Ezra is being kind. The budget deficit isn’t being used as a distraction; it’s being used to hide the real purpose of the accusation: defeating an Obama priority. Neither the deficit nor health care reform are what’s important here.

And Medicare Part D and the tax cuts are not the only example of members of Congress suddenly getting religion on the budget after being agnostic or atheist on the subject.

Many, perhaps even most, of those who are demanding that health care reform be defeated because of the budget situation have voted in favor of what is now close to $800 billion for activities in Iraq and Afghanistan without ever demanding that a penny of that be offset. They also voted for big increases in spending from the highway trust fund and for agricultural price supports and for the constant patching of the alternative minimum tax without losing any sleep over the budget.

In fact, except for a very small group (such as the Concord Coalition; former Comptroller General David Walker, who’s now CEO at The Peter G. Peterson Foundation; and Diane Rogers, who woks for Concord), the budget almost never is the issue. Instead, it’s always the issue people use to oppose something they dislike for another reason that they don’t have the testicular fortitude to state publicly.

After being inspired by CG&G’s own Andrew Samwick, Brad DeLong has the best explanation for all this I’ve seen. The money quote:

The problem is that Gingrich’s “let’s block everything Clinton tries to do even when it’s good for the country, proclaim that he is a failure, and win the next election” move won the 1994 election. And now (the current Republican Party is) trying to repeat it.

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About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for and now

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

2 Comments on No Ezra, The Deficit Isn’t A Distraction: It’s A Subterfuge

  1. This article is very funny. I’ve written a similar article, with completely the opposite view. Which is that the currently raging health care debate is both a diversion and a distraction from the financial crisis. I’ve said this because the so-called Health Care Bill is a foregone conclusion and has already been written and decided.

    Here is my evidence and reasoning:

  2. What gets me is that this strategy works, notably in rural America and the Midwest.

    Cultural and historic trends have led most liberals to live in concentrated areas on the coasts, leaving the middle of the country (with disproportionately more power in the Senate) to get their news from Rush Limbaugh and the TV personalities at Fox News.

    And so naturally, amidst a barrage of complex and interconnected ideas, these people look for one they can understand (deficits) and latch onto it as though their pride depended on it, which at this point, it does. It becomes an interesting social/psychological manifestation of the importance of team loyalty. And it really works. I live in Boston, a liberal city, and attended a town-hall event just 8 miles south of the city, and I couldn’t believe how many people there were spitting out lies and exaggerations and going on to tearfully/emotionally defend them to the “T”.

    I think the difference between Gingrich obstructing Clinton and present-day Republicans obstructing Obama is that now we’ve been able to fight the lies and misinformation using the Internet. Most other factors are about the same–the lobbyists are still there, the ad campaigns are out there, the mainstream media is still reluctant to fact-check–but all things considered, we’re probably winning the Internet war, which has serious implications for young voters.

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