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Fri Jul 27, 2012, 11:49 AM

"There's a reason why .... on fiscal mess: One of our two political parties has gone nuts." [View all]


FRIDAY, JUL 27, 2012 07:45 AM EDT
Blame the Republicans!

A new book is an incredibly useful primer on our budget crisis, except when it comes to assigning blame for it


Here are some shocking facts that I learned from “Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget. Where the Trillions Come From, Where They Go, and Why Inaction Imperils Our Future.”

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- “Today, Americans pay less of their income in taxes than citizens of nearly every other developed country.”

- “In the early 1950s more than 30 percent of federal revenues came from the corporate income tax — in 2011, 7.9 percent.”

“Red Ink” is an extraordinarily useful book. It is exactly what author David Wessel, economics editor for the Wall Street Journal, claims it to be: “a collection of uncomfortable, indisputable facts showing the unsustainable fiscal course the U.S. government is on.” It is concise, readable and informative. For people unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the federal budget, it should be required reading. For those who already know their way around government finances, it is still a handy resource, but at the same time deeply depressing. Because “Red Ink” is also an extraordinarily frustrating book. Our dire circumstances are undeniable – at some point, we are going to have to pay the piper for living on borrowed money — but the way out of our predicament is much less clear. And at the end of “Red Ink,” one is left wondering: Who is to blame for this mess? Who is stopping us from fixing it?

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But while it is refreshing to see a topic as complicated — and polarizing — as the federal budget set forth in such a fair-minded, non-polemical manner, the facts as laid out by Wessel do seem to tell a story in which feckless Republicans play an oversize role. The question is, by never stating that outright, is Wessel being cowardly behind a facade of fairness? This is important, because if one side is more to blame than the other, then the obvious next step is to rally political pressure against that side. The position that everybody’s equally to blame becomes a cop-out.

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It’s very difficult to dwell on this without going apoplectic. Again: Republicans passed an expansion of healthcare without any mechanism to pay for it. That’s pretty bad, from a boosting-the-deficit standpoint. But when Democrats passed their own expansion, funded by a mix of spending cuts and tax hikes that, together, lower the deficit, Republicans just dismissed the numbers as fake.

There’s a reason why we can’t seem to make any progress on our fiscal mess: One of our two political parties has gone nuts.


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