Spin Cycle

03.02.12

Media’s Yawning Deficit Gap

The culture war is news, our economic future not so much.

For all the talk about contraception, JFK, snobs, empty stadiums, and the number of Cadillacs per family, we seem to be missing one very important facet of the presidential campaign.

Would any of the Republican candidates really bring down the budget deficits that they keep decrying?

The answer appears to be no, but most of the media are not exactly focused on the subject. The deficit is too abstract, too dull, to compete with the culture war (Rush called a law student a “slut” for advocating contraception?) that now seems to dominate the 2012 race.

Floyd Norris, the veteran economics columnist for The New York Times, cites a study on Friday on the wide range of taxes that Rick Santorum is promising to slash, including  the marriage penalty:

"He would reduce almost everyone’s taxes. He would slash tax rates for all, his campaign website promises, while preserving 'deductions for charitable giving, home mortgage interest, health care, retirement savings and children.'

“The Tax Policy Center in Washington estimated that in one year, 2015, that set of proposals would reduce federal tax revenue by 40 percent, or $1.3 trillion, from what it would be under current law, which assumes the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. But the center estimated that not everyone would pay lower taxes under that proposal. It estimated that 0.3 percent of taxpayers—most of them earning less than $30,000—would face tax increases.

“And who would be the losers?

“Mostly single mothers, it appears.”

Now studies can always be challenged, of course, but this sort of thing is virtually absent from the debate. Times columnist Paul Krugman, admittedly writing from a liberal perspective, points to an evaluation of all the GOPers’ budget plans by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

“According to an ‘intermediate debt scenario,’ the budget proposals of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney would all lead to much higher debt a decade from now than the proposals in the 2013 Obama budget. Ron Paul would do better, roughly matching Mr. Obama. But if you look at the details, it turns out that Mr. Paul is assuming trillions of dollars in unspecified and implausible spending cuts. So, in the end, he’s really a spendthrift, too.”  

To be fair, the president, who basically punted on his own deficit-reduction commission, doesn’t do all that much to stem the tide of red ink, either. But the difference is that while the Republicans would slash far more spending than Obama (assuming they could get Congress to go along), they give away far more in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the risk.

I’d wager that most Americans care more about their economic future than a finger-pointing debate over birth control. Time for the media to get serious here.