Thursday, July 7, 2011

Assessing the Political Parties - Boxer gets three Pinochios

The Washington Post had a very interesting and informative fact checker article on Barbara Boxer's claim that democrats should be completely credited with achieving our last balanced budget and surplus.  I heard pretty much the same claim made by a liberal friend of mine who was comparing Clinton to George W Bush.

What the article points to is that assigning credit or blame to one of the political parties is not a straight forward process, although arguments are often made as though it is.  In this case the fact checker disagrees with Boxer, by pointing out that Clinton's goal wasn't to balance the budget, that Bush I actually produced a more stringent budget before Clinton, and that Clinton and the Democrats were beneficiaries of a significant and unexpected increase in capital gains tax revenue which was separate from the tax increases added to the budget, along with the pressure to balance the budget that came about because the Republican gains in the mid-term elections.

One could add that Republican objections to the '93 budget bill were centered on the tax increases not the spending restraint and if one recalls correctly the timing here was important.  The dire predictions turned out to be wrong, but the context was a proposed tax increase just as the economy was starting to come out of recession (the recession that largely doomed Bush I's re-election). 

Extending the idea, I don't think it is even particularly clear where responsibility resides when one party controls both congress and the White House because elections tend be centrist affairs.  Thus the prescription drug benefit was passed by Republicans but the impetus behind it came from the left.  And a further complication is that in a bill like that, if a person looks at the vote totals they may get a distorted view of things because a) Democrats might not support it because it doesn't go far enough, not because they're opposed to the program itself b) if they know it will pass, the can vote against to play to their base, and so on.

To maintain, as Boxer claims that one should turn to the democrats for budgetary discipline is to ignore what has been driving the democratic party for over a century.  That's worthy of at least three pinochios

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