By Dean Baker
The second paragraph of a Washington Post article on the Republicans’ economic agenda told readers:
“Some fiscal hawks are pushing dramatic spending reforms and overhauls of entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare, while others are insisting that simply blocking future Democratic legislation and attempting to repeal some of President Biden’s signature achievements will represent enough of a shift toward fiscal responsibility to appease voters.“
While the paragraph is awkward, it implies that voters are demanding big cuts to spending, which could be met by cutting Social Security and Medicare, but it may be possible to appease them with smaller cuts to some of the programs pushed through by President Biden. The Post does not present any evidence that a substantial segment of the population would be happy with cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which polls consistently show enjoy strong support across the political spectrum.
The piece also does not tell readers how it has determined that cuts to the budget would be a “shift to fiscal responsibility.” At the moment, most economists are quite concerned that the economy is headed towards a recession. It is hard to see how cutting spending as an economy heads into recession is fiscally responsibe. It is obviously bad for the economy, almost certainly making a recession worse.
The piece also does a classic Washington Post “he said, she said” in discussing Republican attacks on the I.R.S. budget, which would increase its ability to crack down on tax cheats.
Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Missouri), who’s seeking to lead the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement that Americans want Congress to use the debt ceiling and every other opportunity to tackle rising prices, secure the border and to “repeal the 87,000 new IRS agents Democrats are hiring to target American families.” (The Inflation Reduction Act does not explicitly direct the hiring of more agents, but Republicans argue that the approximately $80 billion it allocated to the agency to boost enforcement and taxpayer services will result in a massive staffing increase.)
Since almost none of the Washington Post’s readers have any clue what $80 billion over the next decade means, it would have been useful to provide some context. This comes to $8 billion a year, or a bit less than 0.13 percent of federal spending over this period. (The Post piece does not even bother to tell readers that this is spending over a decade, not a single year.)
To put this in more context, the IRS budget has been cut sharply in real terms since 2010. The projected spending from Inflation Reduction Act would just be restoring the real value of the IRS budget to its 2010 level, until larger projected in the years 2029-2031. It would have been useful if the Post had taken the time to actually provide information to readers instead of just repeating politicians’ rhetoric.
It might also have been worth mentioning that the Congressional Budget Office projected that the increase in the I.R.S. budget would raise $200 billion over the decade, by making people pay more of the taxes they owe. Cutting this item would on net increase the deficit by $120 billion over this period, which is hard to square with being fiscally responsible.
This first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.