Publicize Fannie Mae
Barack Obama Health Reform Position

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Republican Candidates?

Douglas Holtz-Eakin's McCain Budget Plan:

Even the thoroughly-in-the-tank Washington Post editorial page of Fred Hiatt cannot swallow this, and barfs it up:

McCain Math: The Congressional Budget Office projects a deficit of $443 billion in 2013 if President Bush's tax cuts are extended... and the alternative minimum tax is... patched.... McCain is proposing far more tax cuts... says on the campaign trail that he would repeal, rather than merely adjust, the alternative minimum tax, slash the corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, to 25 percent, and double the exemption for dependents.

It [now] turns out that none of that would be fully implemented by the end of the first McCain term. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the extra cost of the scaled-back plan at $47 billion in 2013, bringing the deficit to a daunting $490 billion. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign claims it would be far higher, somewhere between $650 billion and $750 billion.

The McCain campaign says it will fill the hole with spending cuts... earmarks... a one-year freeze on discretionary spending other than for defense and veterans; and "reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations" to use toward deficit reduction. These claimed savings are illusory. The campaign assumes $150 billion in savings by cutting in half deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Congressional Budget Office says that even reducing troops to 30,000, far beyond Mr. McCain's estimate, would save just $55 billion in 2013 beyond the costs that the CBO projects as part of its deficit calculation. The campaign assumes an additional $160 billion in cuts to the Pentagon procurement budget and other discretionary spending. But eliminating every procurement program that the CBO has identified as a potential budget target would save perhaps $30 billion in 2013.

In any event, Mr. McCain has called for billions more in new spending: increasing the size of the military, launching a new energy independence project, fully funding the No Child Left Behind law. Where's the savings? Mr. McCain says that he would limit overall growth in discretionary spending to 2.4 percent annually. History suggests that this would not be easily achievable: Discretionary spending has grown an average of 6.9 percent over the past seven years.

Mr. McCain's campaign says that he would rein in the growth of entitlement spending, saving another $160 billion, but it does not explain how. His campaign cites "excessive agricultural and ethanol subsidies," but eliminating all farm subsidies would trim less than $15 billion in 2013. Mr. McCain's opposition to the pending Medicare bill does not offer comfort on his willingness to deal with entitlements. He's willing to reverse $13 billion in scheduled cuts to doctors but opposes paying for it by reducing overpayments to the private Medicare plans. These overpayments -- the plans cost, on average, 13 percent more -- are just about the lowest-hanging fruit in tackling Medicare. In fact, Mr. McCain's chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, told USA Today in May that the plans should have to "compete on a level playing field" with traditional Medicare. Mr. McCain sells American voters short -- and he does himself a disservice -- with his implausible claim...

Has the Washington Post climbed out of the tank and started doing its job? Alas, not completely. You see, the Washington Post does not get it right when it says: "The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates the extra cost of the scaled-back plan at $47 billion in 2013, bringing the deficit to a daunting $490 billion. Sen. Barack Obama's campaign claims it would be far higher, somewhere between $650 billion and $750 billion."

I don't know whether the Post:

  1. Has not checked with TPC and the Obama campaign to understand the difference between the two numbers.
  2. Checked but did not understand the answer.
  3. Checked, understood the answer, but doesn't want to tell its readers where the difference comes from.

But it's claim that here we have two substantially differing estimates of the projected McCain 2013 deficit, one non-partisan and one partisan from the other side, is simply wrong. TPC is reporting the cost of what Doug Holtz-Eakin said a couple of months ago was the McCain plan. The Obama Campaign is reporting the cost of what John McCain says today is the McCain plan.

Tax Policy Center's $490 billion estimate does not include any estimate of the effect of McCain's proposal to allow taxpayers to figure their taxes under a different high-exemption tax system and then to choose whatever system is best for them. "The plan lacks sufficient details to model," says the TPC, but it "judge[s] the notion of a revenue-neutral and optional alternative tax system as implausible." The TPC does not include the revenue cost of McCain's gas-tax holidays. The TPC's $490 billion deficit estimate does not include the costs of increasing the army by 90,000 soldiers, or keeping defense spending at 4% of GDP, or fully funding No Child Left Behind, or the Lexington energy independence program. The Post knows that McCain is for all these--it notes them two paragraphs after it quotes the TPC's $490 billion number. But it has not checked or does not understand or wishes for its readers not to understand that the difference between what it says is TPC $490 and Obama Campaign $700 dos not reflect the Obama Campaign's highballing of costs, but rather (a) a large gap between what Doug Holtz-Eakin told the TPC McCain's tax policies were and what McCain says his tax policies are, plus (b) a very large gap between the spending policies assumed by the TPC and the spending promises made by McCain on the stump.

But even the in-the-tank Post won't swallow the medicine the Republicans are feeding them on this.

UPDATE: The Post did check with TPC. They were told that the TPC $490B 2013 projected deficit number starts from the CBO baseline and considers only the McCain tax policies as presented to TPC--that it does not include either the difference between what Holtz-Eakin said and what McCain says his tax policies are, or the difference between the CBO spending baseline and the spending expansions that McCain has promised.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?