How many of you heard that this week the Congressional Budget Office announced that the federal budget’s deficit has hit a five-year low — the lowest since President Barack Obama was sworn in for the first time back in 2009? If you’re reading this site’s works chances are you might have heard about it, but I’d be willing to bet that your Tea Party member uncle or brother-in-law has not. Unless of course the folks at Fox News have already figured out a way to spin this as terrible news and proof that Obama is ruining our economy, of course.
According to the CBO, the federal budget shortfall will be around $514 billion, down from over $600 billion last year, and from over a trillion dollars when he took office. Now, how exactly does the fact that the gap between what the government spends and what they take in has shrunk by nearly half jive with the right-wing narrative that Obama is the worst, most out of control spender in the history of the United States? Well, it doesn’t actually, of course, but again you have to wonder if the news will even hit Conservativeland’s air waves and blogosphere.
Does it feel like Deja vu all over again to any of you? Weren’t we having the exact same arguments over Bill Clinton’s economic policies at almost the exact same time in his presidency? The right never acknowledged how well Clinton’s economic policies wound up being for the country, even as he left George W. Cheney’s administration with a tremendous budget surplus. At this rate of decline, it is entirely possible that by the time a new president takes office in January of 2017 that Obama will have delivered a very similar looking budget, and yet, what are the bets on whether Republicans will even acknowledge it?
Anyone who has been even remotely following along since Obama took office can see that the GOP’s game plan from day one has been to choke out and stall whatever portion of the president’s agenda that they could, in an effort to drag the country’s economic recovery to a standstill. A plurality, if not an outright and staggering majority, of legitimate economists believe to this day that the stimulus passed in 2009 was simply not large enough. The majority of economists agree that even something simple like focusing on infrastructure modernization and repair with some kind of work program similar to what FDR instituted in the wake of The Great Depression, and such has often been done in our nation’s history, would be a much needed salve on the country’s economic wounds.
Yet, with one half of the country’s major political power still fighting to instill European-style austerity, what are the chances of any of that happening? You’d think that news of the budget deficit hitting a five-year low would encourage the budget hawks to take a step backward and admit that there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. To me, though, the real key to the deficit news this week is that it still didn’t prevent Congress from slashing food stamps in its new bipartisan farm bill. Sure, cutting some more fat from the federal budget will certainly close that 500 billion dollar gap, but the cuts they made to food stamps account for just $800 million, not even one of the many hundreds of billions we’re still short.
You know what would shrink that budget deficit even more? Letting the president do what Reagan, Dubya and Clinton all got to do to help mitigate the damage of the recessions they handled — hire some more government workers to provide more essential services to the people. Stimulate the economy, get it to grow more rapidly, and you could watch what’s left of the deficit crumble into a sea of surplus. Imagine how much better the economic forecast would be if real, honest focus was put in Congress upon the task of truly helping to create new jobs, instead of chasing phony scandals and wasting time concocting more poison pill-laden short term budget resolutions that just chip away at the edges of the economy, mostly hurting the middle class.
The truth is that clearly the economy is trying to shake off its hangover. Clearly the economic policies of this administration are working to some extent, which is why it may become impossible for the right-wing to ignore the shrinking deficit. They may just have to take their blinders off, because math is math and facts are facts, and there’s a whole lot of credit to be stolen for this news, too.
They’ll acknowledge the deficit news because they won’t be able to keep their grubby, obstructive and obstinate paws off the credit for it. They’ll claim that it was only because they held Obama’s feet to the fire, that it was only because they stubbornly insisted on squeezing every last breath out of the budget that they could, that this herculean budgetary feat was accomplished. They’ll gloss over the fact that Obama got them finally to cave on the Bush Tax Cuts, letting them expire for the wealthiest earners. They’ll conveniently ignore the fact that the economy has gotten itself on a lot better footing, though there is certainly still a mountain of work ahead for the working class to thrive once again. But you can bet that if news of the budget deficit shrinking yet again even reaches their ears, they’ll take credit for it.
And that of course is what makes following politics in this country so maddening at times, isn’t it?