Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

More Deficit Data

I just came across OMBwatch, another good site for those excited by data on federal revenue and spending. There, I found a page devoted to “Interpreting the Return to Budget Deficits“. The analysis and findings are similar to my earlier post, but with more detail and some additional graphs. In OMBwatch’s estimation,

There are several reasons for the dramatic deterioration of the budget situation. The primary cause has been the dramatic decline in revenues, which have dropped to 16.3% of GDP – the lowest level since 1959. To a lesser extent increased expenditures, especially on military activities, have played a role as well.

Part of this can be explained by a weak economy, and part by the tax cuts enacted over the past three years. However, the recession that began in March 2001 was, by historical standards, relatively mild. In addition, recent recessions have not seen revenue declines of nearly the same magnitude as the current recession (see Figure 4.) This suggests that a large part of the revenue reduction was due to enacted tax legislation.

Using conservative numbers, I allocated approximately 53.3% of the blame to the tax cuts, which seems supported by this report (full disclosure: OMBwatch is not non-partisan; based on its “what we do” and “who we are” pages, it’s clearly a lefty think tank. Still, the deficit numbers are sufficiently straightforward that I think this particular analysis can be taken at face value).

And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (which is non-partisan, though some might judge it center-left) has a similar analysis, “SANITIZING THE GRIM NEWS: The Administration’s Efforts to Make Harmful Deficits Appear Benign.” This report leads with this:

“…a number of policymakers on Capitol Hill this week began describing the deficits as ‘spending driven’ and arguing that tax cuts had nothing to do with the deterioration of the budget outlook. This analysis seeks to draw a more balanced picture of the causes and implications of current and future deficits.”

Then, in a section titled Tax Cuts or Spending Increases?, the CBPP concludes that

OMB’s own figures in the Mid-Session Review show that tax cuts account for 54 percent of the cost over the 2002-2008 period of all legislation that has been enacted since the Administration took office or that the Administration is now proposing. In other words, under Administration policies, tax cuts will account for the majority of the deterioration in the budget caused by actions taken by policymakers.”

and then concludes that

“…A final point is that many of the recent spending increases that have been instituted are not truly elective. The nation had little choice but to rebuild after 9/11 or to strengthen homeland security. Large, permanent tax cuts do not qualify as necessities for the nation in the way that some of the spending increases do.”

IndeedTM to both analyses.


P.S. In other news, Matt Yglesias is back and appears to be in full pre-Europe force.

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It All Depends on What Constitutes an Imminent Threat

By now, you’ve probably heard about the House Republicans–specifically Rep. Bill Thomas–calling the cops on the Democrats, or rather one Democrat. Eschaton’s Lambert has the money-quote from an Austin-American Statesman piece on the incident:

Republicans defended Thomas, saying he had no choice but to call in police to head off physical attacks they said appeared imminent from Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, a 71-year-old Democrat from California.

The Republicans allege that Stark was threatening 50 year old Colorado Representative Scott McInnus (left). Mr. McInnis’ biography states that, “Prior to serving in Congress, McInnis worked as a police officer and a family attorney in Glenwood Springs,” and that he “was named Man of the Year by the Korean Veterans Association.” Each of these occurred prior to his recent fit of cowardice in the face of the 71 year-old Stark. Here are the two principals–note the beady menacing eyes of Rep. Stark (right):


Also, Stark was the only Democrat in the room at the time, as the other Dems were in the Ways and Means Committee Library discussing various strategies that might allow them to actually review a bill before voting on it (Republicans delivered a new draft of a bill on changing pension rules shortly before midnight on Thursday, then sought to force a vote early on Friday; the altercation broke out when Democrats resisted).

So, to recap:

  1. There are 24 Republicans in the Ways and Means Committe, and though it’s not clear whether all of them were in the room at the time, it is certain that many of them were.
  2. Pete Stark was the only Democrat in the room at the time.
  3. At some point, Stark did say to McInnis “you little wimp” and “you little fruitcake.” (Note: Stark says these remarks were made after the police arrived).
  4. This was clear and convincing evidence of an imminent threat to the safety of House Republicans.
  5. Rep. Thomas cited reports by British Prime Minister Tony Blair indicating that the 71 year old Stark may have or soon have a program in progress that would allow him to circumvent Robert’s Rules of Order and that, within 45 minutes at the most, Rep. Stark could have the ability to punch Rep. McInnis in the nose, notwithstanding the numerical odds and age gap.
  6. Chairman Thomas therefore had no choice but to take bold action in response to this imminent threat, calling the Capitol Police.

Sounds at least as reasonable as some other justifications for confrontation that I’ve heard recently from Republicans.


UPDATE: Jesse reports that the odds Stark was facing were actually 9 to 1. Jesse also has the full “wimp and fruitcake” quote from Rep. Stark; based on the quote, it looks like Stark made the statements before the police arrived.

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One in Fifty-One Republican Senators Agree with Angry Bear

Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska):

“To just throw George Tenet’s body from the train and say, ‘That takes care of the problem,’ I don’t think is the way to do this.”

Hagel pointed to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney as part of the process that led to Bush including the report in the annual presidential address.


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Good News

Unfortunately, 37 + 16 is still 53, but this is still a step in the right direction:

The same poll also reports that Bush’s approval rating is down 8 points to 55%, a small majority say the president is mishandling the economy, only 40% say the Iraq campaign has been a success, and 46% of respondents claim it is unlikely that they will support Bush in the 2004 election (with 50% likely).


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Axing Private Lynch

In a move surely unrelated to “fatigue, stress, mechanical malfunctions and a disastrous series of errors” being much less exciting than an ambush, attack, and heroic soldier defending herself with every bullet in her revolver, CBS is cancelling its Private Lynch movie. CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves also admits that the apparent quid pro quo of offering a movie of the week in exchange for an interview may have been “over the line”:

“As these companies [CBS News and CBS Entertainment] become more and more vertically integrated, you know, sometimes you do go over the line.”

If Mr. Moonves had reached that conclusion a bit earlier he might have saved Viacom $1.7 million in 2002 campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures leading into the FCC’s media ownership rules changes vote this year.


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This is Just Weird

Ten years later, there are still people who question Vince Foster’s death. This (and this) definitely won’t hasten the waning of the press maelstrom:

The BBC confirmed today that Dr. David Kelly, the British weapons expert who committed suicide on Thursday, was the source for a story on doctoring intelligence files that led to a highly publicized running battle between the broadcaster and the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

This quote refers to the ‘sexed up’ quote (as in “intelligence was ‘sexed up’ to maximize the apparent threat posed by Saddam”). Just two days before his death, Kelly denied the BBC’s allegation before a Parliament committee.


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Better Late than Never

I just caught a recent Spinsanity piece on the spinning of the deficit. They have a great exchange from McClellan’s first day:

Q: One more thing, if I may. You had a laundry list, basically, about what has contributed to the deficit, and you didn’t include the tax cuts in there. Was that an oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. Again, there’s going to be a full briefing on there. But, clearly, it was, you know, the slower economic recovery and weak stock market that caused revenues to decline, which explains the biggest change that you’ll see in our budget position — followed by cost of war and the economic growth plan.

Oops! Must have slipped his mind. A recession would in fact explain some of the big drop off in revenue–except that GDP has not fallen (see this post). And blaming the weak stock market for the drop off in revenue is also a stretch because so much stock is held in nontaxable accounts (IRAs and endowments) that a decline in the market has a disproportionately small impact on tax revenues.

Spinsanity’s got a lot more, including some additional analysis of what portion of the deficit is attributable to Iraq and Afghanistan.


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A Half-Answer Creates More Questions

Back when the White House first said the African Uranium line should not have been in the SOTU, the NYT’s telling of the tale included this:

How Mr. Bush’s statement made it into last January’s State of the Union address is still unclear. No one involved in drafting the speech will say who put the phrase in, or whether it was drawn from the classified intelligence estimate.

At the time (7/8/03), I said, “I also think that the vagaries and unanswered questions in the admission–not saying how the mistake was made or who made it–means that the issue probably won’t die in the press as quickly as the administration hopes. And rightly so.” As it turned out, I was right.

Now the AP reports that “White House Releases Documents on Iraq Flap“, and it again looks like they are creating more questions than they are answering:

The Bush administration released the material — a sanitized version of the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate prepared for the president — as it sought to shield Bush from rising criticism that he misled the public in making his case for war with Iraq in his Jan. 28 speech.

Administration aides suggested that the eight pages of excerpts, out of 90 in the document, demonstrate that the notion that Saddam was trying to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program permeated the U.S. intelligence community — and was not just based on a suspect British intelligence report that relied in part on forged documents.

8 out of 90 pages? I can’t wait for the stories and leaks about what’s in the other 82 pages. I’m picturing redacting along the lines of “…there are reports of Iraq trying to buy uranium from Africa, but these reports are at best unsubstantiated and likely to be completely false.”


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Blaming Tenet

I’ve heard Lieberman call for Tenet’s resignation, and now apparently Dean is joining him. I see two major problems with this. First, it really doesn’t seem like Tenet’s fault that the bad intelligence made it into the SOTU. It’s clearly the responsibility of the NSC. Ultimately, the responsibility is the President’s, notwithstanding new Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s best efforts not to admit it. The second problem with calling for Tenet to resign is that doing so makes it more likely that this issue will fade away without obtaining the resignation, or at least acknowledgement of responsibility, of those who are at fault.


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Which is it?

Skimming the headlines, I spotted this: “Resistance to Aids virus is growing, say scientists.” That’s good, I thought. Then I read the first sentence of the story:

The Aids virus is becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat it, researchers said yesterday.

This story is in the British paper The Independent, leading me to suspect that the headline writers were previously employed by Prime Minister Blair as reviewers of intelligence reports on Iraqi nuclear programs.


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