According to a Washington Post article, House Democrats are laying out a “legislative agenda” as part of their “midterm election push.” Of course, that is not unusual–it is Congress’ job to make laws, after all, and any party that wants to control the House should have an agenda.
The treatment the plan receives in the article is interesting on two counts. First, the plan itself is quite ambitious and, to my mind, slightly flawed but overall a good idea. Second, the balance imperative rears its ugly head in some impressive ways.
To summarize the plan, let me quote from the article:
The plan would allocate billions of dollars to build up the military, subsidize student loans and bolster port security. It would raise the minimum wage, make college tuition payments tax-deductible, repeal oil-company tax breaks and expand incentives for personal savings accounts, among many other provisions.
The program would prohibit the House from approving new spending or tax measures that widen the budget deficit. It would do that by restoring budget rules requiring that all future spending increases and tax cuts be offset by equivalent tax hikes or spending cuts.
This is certainly bold. My favorite part is the restoration of rules that require new spending to be offset by cuts. Anyone who has run a household budget knows that you can’t start spending more money on something unless you spend less on something else. This provision alone makes the whole plan worth it.
As for the other parts of the plan, one would need to see more specifics to know for sure, but the general priorities seem good. Increasing military and security spending seems to be a necessity of the moment. Increasing the minimum wage and helping kids pay for college are good, reliable, progressive moves. I don’t like the support for personal savings accounts (assuming they’re talking about the ones Republicans propose to supplement Social Security or the ones for replacing health insurance; I’m all in favor of banks offering savings accounts) because I don’t think that it makes sense to shift risk to individuals.
All in all, a bold plan. I would like to turn now to the treatment the plan receives in the article. For example, the article states that “Republicans and budget experts doubt that Democrats could do both [enact their plan and keep the deficit under control] simultaneously.” First, the contruction implies that Republicans and budget experts are on the same page, thus implying that Republicans’ criticisms are not politically motivated. Who are these budget experts, and why do they doubt that Democrats could enact their plan? The article is silent.
The piece contains an amazing example of he-said she-said journalism:
This week, President Bush blistered Democratic policies and argued that voters would be better off if they kept Republicans in charge of Congress. He charged in a series of speeches that the Democrats would undermine America’s fight against terrorism and would raise taxes if they won congressional majorities on Nov. 7.
Democratic leaders dispute the accusation and have been talking up Six for ’06.
President Bush makes an accusation. The Democrats disagree. The article says nothing more, but there is much more that should be said. For example, why would increasing military and port security spending “undermine America’s fight against terrorism?” That makes no sense to me. As for raising taxes, it is true that the Democratic plan leaves that possibility open, but only to offset increased spending.
In fact, one incredible omission occurs throughout the article: any mention of the current state of the budget deficit, or of the budget management practiced by the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. I think that information would be relevant in a story about Democrats offering an alternative plan. Yet the article never mentions anything about the budget situation as it stands now.
As a matter of fact, it stands directly in the toilet. The U.S. Treasury website provides information about the debt. As the Clinton presidency was drawing to a close (9/30/2000), the deficit was:
The deficit is now:
Of course, for fairness I should mention that the deficit did increase during Clinton’s eight years, from $4,064,620,655,521.66 to the above figure, or an increase of $1,609,557,554,365.20, or 39.6%.
Under Bush, the deficit has increased by $2,888,277,223,608.33, or 50.9%.
Keep that in mind as I present my favorite unintentionally ironic part of the article:
“It’s schizophrenia in ’06 is what it is,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a member of the Budget Committee. “You cannot balance the budget by vastly increasing spending.”