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The 6 Biggest Lies About the U.S. Debt

As Congress nears a vote on the various debt ceiling deals, let's look at the lies and misinformation that got us into this mess.

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One blatant lie is that Republicans and Democrats, the Congress and the White House are serious about reining in budget deficits to reduce the long-term debt. They are not. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that the deficit from  2011 to 2013 will be $3.5 trillion. Over the decade it will be $8.5 trillion. Now, lots of numbers are being thrown about on spending cuts over a 10-year period, but they keep dropping – the Senate Democrats are proposing  $2.2 trillion in cuts and costs savings while the Republicans weigh in at  $915 billion.

Cutting one or two hundred billion dollars a year is meaningless. Wolff says, “Even if you cut the debt $300 billion, you are left with an enormous annual deficit that adds hugely to the national debt they all claim to care so much about. It gives lie to the idea that the Republicans and Democrats are interested in trying to cut the national debt.”

If you really believe shrinking the debt is an imperative, then there are easier ways to do it then stealing grandma’s meds. The Bush wars and tax cuts – which are still going –  cost $3.3 trillion from 2002 to 2009. Cutting the trillion-dollar war budget in half, ending the Bush tax cuts (which Obama could have done with no sweat when he was bursting with political capital in early 2009 or by calling the GOP bluff before or after the 2010 midterm elections) and raising tax rates on corporations would pretty much wipe out the deficit over the next decade. In the case of corporate taxes, during the last decade it averaged only 10.7 percent of federal revenues – and  since 2008 it’s shrunk to barely 5 percent – versus  29.8 percent in the 1950s.

Of course, the stand-off is based on another lie: that Congress and Obama administration can enforce cuts over a 10-year period. The budget process is an annual exercise. There is no provision whatsoever to make cuts permanent because they can always be undone by Congress, and taxes can always be lowered or costly new wars started, both of which always seem to happen, widening the deficit once more.

There is no end to the falsehoods and fantasies from the chattering classes. “We are in recovery.” So says Ben Bernanke –  since 2009 no less. Obama has been saying the same since 2010, while hedging that it is “ painfully slow.” Really? Tell that to the 25 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the labor force. This amounts to an unemployment rate of 16.2 percent, but the real rate is probably closer to 20 percent after factoring in youth unable to enter the workforce or those who have taken early retirement. Or try telling the 100 million Americans who are effectively caught in poverty ( using far more realistic measures than the government does) or the  6.5 million households with mortgages that are delinquent or in foreclosure that we are in recovery.

The notion we are in recovery is based on believing the downturn was “the Great Recession,” a distortion the New York Times helped  spread. Paul Krugman is one of the few mainstream commentators saying that not only is there no end in sight to the four-year-long slump, let’s give it a more accurate label such as, “ the Lesser Depression.” Suppose the corporate media had been saying “Depression” for the last few years. It would have bolstered support for extraordinary measures to dig out of an extraordinary crisis, such as policies that did work during the last depression: jobs programs, infrastructure, social welfare, stronger labor rights and aid to local governments. But this would mean redistribution of wealth downwards instead of upwards. Therefore, saying recession makes it sound part of the normal boom-and-bust cycle, one we will overcome through the magic of the market as we have so many times before.

 
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