11/01/2011 12:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Notes From Washington

During the debt ceiling debacle, I posted almost daily on the dysfunctionality unfolding in front of us all. The thing that most got to me -- from what I can see, it's the thing that got to so many of us -- was the aggressive unwillingness of policymakers to focus on what everyone needed them to focus on: the weak economy.

For the majority of the American people, that debate amplified what they already suspected: this town is out of touch and few here are truly interested in trying to help them get through this period of great insecurity. Congress will provide no relief from the immediate term threat of unemployment, income loss, or foreclosure. And they're light years away from action on the longer term concerns about the quality of schools, infrastructure, fiscal imbalances, or structural challenges, like the quantity and quality of job growth over the long term.

The result of this willful ignoring of what matters most can be seen in the poll results: Congressional approval at an all-time, single-digit low of 9%. You can find 9% of people who approve of mosquito bites.

Today, I read (from Catherine Rampell in the NYT) that the Tax Policy Center scores the Perry plan as... wait for it... raising taxes (slightly) on those at the bottom of the income scale, no change in the middle, and huge breaks at the top, to the tune of $1.5 million reduction in tax payments for the wealthiest families (avg inc: $8.4 million).


Moreover, as I suspected, it's a big revenue loser: $570 billion per year.

Of course, the Governor says he'll make up the difference with spending cuts.

But as Bruce Bartlett writes:

Governor Perry says he will slash spending to 18 percent of G.D.P. from its current level of 23 percent. No explanation was offered of how this would be done or how such a huge spending cut would ever be enacted by Congress. It should be noted that even if every domestic program other than Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is abolished, that would not be enough for Mr. Perry to reach his goal -- all those programs together come to just 4.2 percent of G.D.P.

Thus, Mr. Perry's plan cannot be taken seriously.

Next, in other news from deep inside the beltway, I learn that the Republicans on the deficit reduction super-committee claim they're all for a balanced approach, meaning deficit savings are achieved through both spending cuts and revenue increases. The catch is -- and yes, there had to be a catch -- that revenue is $200 billion dollars generated by the supply-side growth effects of future tax reform.

Just decompose that for a moment. Future, unspecified tax reform -- which means cuts to these guys -- will, through the magical thinking of dynamic scoring (trickle down growth effects) generate $200 billion. The weird part of it all: jeez guys, if you're going in for magical thinking, $200 billion seems pretty paltry. (To be fair, they are claiming over $600 billion more in "revenues" but those dollars come from Medicare benefit cuts and higher fees -- to be fair once again, those ain't revenues.)

So, I'm sorry America, but things have not improved here since we last checked in. You probably suspected as much, but now you know.

Now, just for fun, let's think for a second about what our politicians would be working on were they actually doing the job we need them to do. Here's my short list:

  • Jobs, incomes, loosening the middle class squeeze, both cyclical (recession) and structural (long term)
  • A sustainable budget path
  • Coverage and cost control in health care
  • Adequate regulation in key sectors, including financial markets and climate.
  • Reinvestment in public goods, education, infrastructure

I get that people can set different legitimate paths to address these challenges. My path to a sustainable budget may not be yours, but the rule is that neither of ours can invoke magic to get there.

The point is that if you hold or are running for political office and you don't have a credible, understandable, plausible plan for addressing the above, you don't belong in the picture. Do us all a big favor and go home.

No "shrink government, shudder the EPA, or for that matter, tax the rich, full stop" or other such reductionist panders are acceptable substitutes for actual plans. It's getting late in the day and we've got a lot of work to do. Please, for the sake of your country -- our country -- put up or get out.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.