As a political writer, being outraged by certain issues and policies is like rocket fuel. I'm not an angry guy by nature, but there's a universe of things in politics that anger me and, combined with an almost involuntary drive to seek and disseminate the truth, I'm never really at a loss for topics to cover.
But the sequestration issue has been one of those rare items that frustrate me to the point of being incapable of spending time on it. When I read about sequestration, my brain seizes. The stupidity of it all simply confounds me to the point of being speechless. For me, this is a shocking and rare predicament.
It's not even the chronic brinksmanship -- the reoccurring doomsday countdowns and the Republican-manifested economic sabotage that's behind it all. It's not the Keynesian in me who opposes the very notion of deficit reduction during a sluggish recovery. Granted, these are both points of irritation, but the characteristic of the sequester that ought to force us all into complete apoplexy and subsequent outrage-induced catatonia is the epidemic of ignorance regarding the status of the federal budget deficit.
There are two sides to this deficit idiocy.
Firstly, the completely inexcusable conflation of the deficit and the debt, and, secondly, the total failure to acknowledge actual deficit reduction. The press, and especially the Republicans, refuse to acknowledge that not only has the deficit been reduced by more than half-a-trillion dollars since 2009, but also that the deficit will continue to drop with or without the automatic cuts that appear to be inevitable by the end of the week. As a result, deficit hysteria is based on nearly unprecedented stupidity and deliberate deception. And very few players are innocent in this endeavor.
Turn on cable news and you'll hear the words "deficit" and "debt" used interchangeably as if they're the same thing. Not too long ago, Sean Hannity ran a segment in which he aired a clip of the president discussing in his State of the Union address how his proposals won't "add a single dime" to the deficit. Then, with a satisfied gotcha! tone, Hannity illustrated how the debt -- the debt, not the deficit -- has increased by $5.86 trillion since Obama took office. Therefore the president must be lying about the deficit. The president, Hannity said, actually spent a crapload of dimes: 58 trillion of them.
The dishonesty and cynicism is astonishing, even for Fox News. This was a deliberate attempt to deceive its audience into believing the, I don't know, deficitdebt is not only the same thing but that the president lied to the tune of $5.86 trillion dollars.
On top of the ridiculous lies and inability of too many people to use the correct word to match the numbers, when was the last time you heard anyone on cable news or the Sunday shows, much less the White House press room, note with emphasis that the deficit has been reduced by $555 billion since 2009? Let's go through this again: the final Bush administration budget bill authorized spending for 2009, creating a deficit of $1.2 trillion by the time President Obama was sworn in. An additional $200 billion was added by Obama by the end of that year, creating a total of a $1.4 trillion deficit. From that high water mark, the deficit has steadily decreased to a projected $845 billion by the end of this year. The CBO projects that by the end of 2016, the deficit will have dropped to $433 billion, for a total of nearly a trillion dollars in deficit reduction in six years.
Here's a fantastically disgusting example of an obvious lie about deficit reduction. Last week, the president said, "Over the last few years both parties have worked together to reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion." He's clearly referring to cumulative long-term deficit reduction and not the year-to-year reduction. But CNS News, a right-wing outfit, claimed, like Fox News, that the president was lying because the debt has gone up. Furthermore, the author, Terence P. Jeffrey wrote:
In fiscal 2008, the federal deficit was $454.8 billion. In fiscal 2012, it was $1.2967 trillion. By this measure, President Obama did not reduce federal deficits by $2.5 trillion. He increased the annual deficit by $841.9 billion.
Needless to say, that's a complete distortion. The 2012 deficit was $1.1 trillion. Not $1.3 trillion. And, as I wrote earlier, the first deficit for which Obama ought to be fully responsible is 2010 -- not 2008, and only a very small chunk of the 2009 deficit.
Ultimately, all of the misinformation and agitprop about the deficitdebt has resulted in an American electorate that's utterly clueless on the deficit. Via JM Ashby and Steve Benen, here's a graph illustrating the results of a new Bloomberg poll:
A 62% majority believe the deficit is getting bigger, 28% believe the deficit is staying roughly the same, and only 6% believe the deficit is shrinking.
In other words, in the midst of a major national debate over America's finances, 90% of Americans are wrong about the one basic detail that probably matters most in the conversation, while only 6% -- 6%! -- are correct.
I think you get the idea... even though everyone else most definitely does not.
The entire sequestration debate is based on the premise that the government needs to reduce the deficit or else we're all screwed -- and debt and insolvency and Greece. Run for your lives! Thus we either have to come up with a deal or slash an additional $85 billion. Add into the mix the fact that we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place if the Republicans hadn't played games with the debt ceiling because of similar misrepresentations of the facts and total lies about the deficit.
Yet David Brooks and others believe that both sides are to blame for it, in spite of the fact that it was the Republican effort to sabotage the economy and, therefore, the Obama presidency, and the party's reckless decision to use the debt ceiling as a political cudgel for the first time in history. Yeah, the both sides meme is part of the sequestration insanity. All told, the sequester is a huge shit sandwich with all the trimmings -- everything that's infuriating and stupid about the current political and fiscal debate, stacked high and tasting appropriately, you know, shitty.