Lefty FiveThirtyEight Whines About Deficits, But Sore Spot Is Tax Cuts

The media rarely complain about deficit spending when liberals are at the helm, doling out taxpayer dollars like candy from a parade float. But once Republicans are in control, journalists can’t wait to complain.

FiveThirtyEight columnist Evan Horowitz, who also writes for The Boston Globe, proclaimed on Feb. 14, “The Economy is Soaring, And Now So Is the Deficit. That’s a Bad Combination.” But his complaint seemed to be about tax cuts, not spending. In December, he shrugged off the deficits and even said with interest rates low the government could do “valuable” things like fix our “infrastructure.”

In his most recent column, Horowitz placed blame on the tax cuts first and then spending, writing, “Between costly tax cuts and last week’s hefty spending bill, Congress is generating deficits that aren’t just large, they’re also unprecedented and potentially ominous.”

Unprecedented? The spending bill alone wasn’t, according to The New York Times article he linked. That indicated a projected deficit for 2019 of $1.2 trillion. Yes, it’s a huge number, but one surpassed under President Barack Obama. The Times said it was “a level not seen since the recession and its aftermath.”

Adopting a typical liberal stance, he portrayed the tax cuts as a “cost” to the government and blamed “Congress’s don’t-tax-but-spend approach is a root cause of the sizable deficit.”

Conservatives and libertarians have argued the tax cuts aren’t the problem, but runaway spending definitely is. That criticism is more believable when it comes from a source that consistently opposes big spending and calls for spending cuts. Ryan Bourne of Cato Institute called out “establishment Republicans” for that exact problem on Feb. 13.

Bourne criticized the recent passage of a “budget-cap busting spending package.”

“Sadly, the Republican establishment has shown that they can no longer claim to be fiscal conservatives. The revenue impacts of the tax reform bill had a big enough effect on the debt,” Bourne wrote. “But arguably net tax cuts were necessary to grease the wheels of pro-growth reforms, such as cutting the corporate tax rate, and lowering marginal income tax rates. Otherwise too many losers kick up a fuss.”

He added that “in the long run, spending is the true burden of government activity.”

Back in August, he wrote a column saying “why Trump’s tax plan can’t work.” In othe columns Horowitz also complained about the “deficit-busting” tax cuts, yet when Republicans were talking about trying to reform entitlements to cut spending Horowitz claimed they were going after the “wrong target” — that they needed to focus solely on containing health care costs.

In that FiveThirtyEight column, he said Social Security, welfare and anti-poverty program spending “looks relatively manageable” and said cuts to programs like food stamps and unemployment “are unlikely to improve the debt forecast.” The solution he argued for was to “contain” health care program costs “or boost economic growth enough to pay for this expensive health care.”

One problem with Horowitz’s criticism is that any impact, positive or negative, of the tax cuts will take time to materialize. Will tax cuts boost growth enough to help reduce the deficit? No one knows yet. Withholding adjustments to paychecks mostly begin in February 2018, and the impact on U.S. economic growth will take even longer to ascertain.

Some forecasters think a positive impact is coming at least for GDP and jobs. The International Monetary Fund announced upward revisions to its global GDP forecast for 2018 and 2019 because “sweeping U.S. tax cuts were likely to boost investment in the world’s largest economy and help its main trading partners,” Reuters reported. Conservative groups also anticipate hiring as a result of the corporate tax rate cuts, according to USA Today.

Back in December, Horowitz was also far less concerned with the country’s debt and deficits. Writing for the Boston Globe: “Deep in debt and feeling OK about it.” The column’s subhead claimed, “With interest rates low, facts don’t justify cries of panic over the national debt.

“You’ve heard the fearmongering. America is broke. Government debt already is measured in tens of trillions of dollars and will soon be as big as our entire economy. To top it off, Republicans are poised to pass a tax bill that will add at least another trillion in red ink,” he wrote then.

“In lieu of panic, though, maybe the more appropriate response is just to shrug. Sure, someday the government’s oversized debt load may get us into trouble. But right now, the situation seems manageable.”

While he opposed a “breezy attitude toward government spending” paid by “bottomless borrowing,” he said the “reckoning” seemed “awfully far away.”

Horowitz even argued for “valuable things government can do with this borrowed money, like fixing our infrastructure.”

Isn’t that the very problem of Washington? Both sides just want to spend more of the taxpayer’s money, or borrow it from future taxpayers.


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Julia A. Seymour's picture