Brooks Left Himself Off the List of Budget Deal Villains

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Tuesday, 19 July 2011 04:19

Surely it was an oversight. In his column today, David Brooks lists all the various groups on the Republican side who made it difficult, if not impossible, to work out a deal with President Obama for large cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs. For some reason he forgot to include people like himself, ostensible moderates who routinely mislead the public about the budget.

As every budget expert knows, the large budget deficits we currently face are not the result of out of control spending, but rather the downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. If the deficit were smaller right now, we would be seeing lower output and higher unemployment. Nonetheless, Brooks has been happy to contribute to the notion that spending and deficits are out of control.

Every budget expert also knows that the long-term story of exploding deficits is first and foremost a story of runaway private sector health care costs. The problem is not "entitlements." If we paid the same amount per person for our health care as people in other wealthy countries then we would be looking at budget surpluses in the long-term, not deficits. However, Brooks would rather blame entitlements in his columns, helping to convince readers that the problem is demographics.

Brooks also fundamentally misrepresents public sentiment. In today's column he tells readers:

"Opinion polls showed that voters are eager to reduce the federal debt, and they want to do it mostly but not entirely through spending cuts."

This is not really true. Opinion polls show that most voters, including most Republicans, do not want to see Social Security and Medicare cut. They also do not want to see many other large areas of spending, like unemployment insurance, or infrastructure spending, cut.

The public has been convinced by people like David Brooks that there are vast amounts of government money being spent on things like John McCain's Woodstock Museum. The polls indicate that they would like to see these items cut. However, all the arguably wasteful spending items in this category only amount to a small fraction of the budget. Eliminating them will not have a notable impact on the deficit.