Krugman clues Chris Hayes: How crazy are the budget plans of the current Republican candidates?
Last night, Paul Krugman appeared with Chris Hayes on The One True Liberal Channel. At one point, he compared those candidates' current budget proposals to the proposal of Candidate Bush back in Campaign 2000.
He said the current tax plans are just massively crazier. Hayes seemed surprised by that. Here's how their discussion began:
HAYES (11/2/15): One of the reasons I was excited to have you on tonight is, lost in the sort of reaction to the CNBC debate is the fact that the idea behind the CNBC debate is that it would be the debate focused on economic issues.To watch the whole segment, click here.
KRUGMAN: And they had little of that—
HAYES: And it strikes me that essentially the central domestic policy plank of the Republican Party now is the same as when George W. Bush ran in 2000, which is lots of tax cuts, which will distributionally benefit the wealthiest the most. Is that a fair characterization?
KRUGMAN: Sure. Except the difference now is that the tax cuts are bigger, they're less responsible, and the claims being made for them are even more extravagant. So, you know, Bush looks cautious and statesmanlike compared with the current crop.
KRUGMAN: Yeah! No, it's amazing, actually. We are— I'm starting to look back and I said, "Boy, that was a sane party in the Bush years, by comparison." I mean, this is crazy.
You can watch the tape to decide of Hayes was surprised by what Krugman said. To our ear, the cable host sounds quite surprised when he says, "Really?"
At any rate, Krugman said that Candidate Bush 2000 "looks cautious and statesman-like compared with the current crop." He said the current budget proposals are "crazy"—that Bush's budget proposal in Campaign 2000 seems sane in comparison.
Plainly, that assessment is true. Unfortunately, CNBC's hapless moderators barely touched on these points last Wednesday night. Instead, they wandered the countryside, throwing out scattershot questions from which they would quickly move on.
All too often, they did so in a snarky, insulting way. Their tone seemed to have been designed in heaven to reinforce GOP talking-points about the press corps' liberal bias.
How hapless were those moderators? We'll examine the question all week. Today, let's recall the size of Candidate Bush's tax cut proposal in Campaign 2000.
You could report the size of Bush's tax cut proposal in several different ways. In part, it depended on whether you included the year 2001, in which the proposed tax cuts wouldn't yet have taken effect. It also depended on whether you included the increased interest costs which would accrue to the federal government after the proposed tax cuts lowered federal revenues.
By the time of the first Bush-Gore debate, the two candidates had long been using different numbers to describe the size of the plan. In that fateful debate, Bush said he would be returning $1.3 trillion to the people through his tax cuts in his first ten years (starting in 2001).
Candidate Gore started counting in the year 2002, when the proposed tax cuts would go into effect. In that fateful first debate, he said Candidate Bush had proposed "a $1.9 trillion tax cut, almost half of which goes to the wealthy."
You can pick the accounting method you like. However you choose to slice it, that was the range within which the debate occurred during Campaign 2000. According to Candidate Bush, he had proposed $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over ten years. According to Candidate Gore, Bush had proposed a $1.9 trillion hit to the federal treasury.
Something else should be said about Bush's proposal in Campaign 2000; we'll note that point below. For now, consider what Krugman meant when he said that Bush's proposal in Campaign 2000 looks cautious, statesmanlike and sane when compared with the current "crazy" proposals.
As Krugman and Hayes continued talking last night, Krugman cited a number. Readers, be forewarned! This is just the start of the current lunacy:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): No, it's amazing, actually. We are— I'm starting to look back and I said, "Boy, that was a sane party in the Bush years, by comparison." I mean, this is crazy.Depending on how you did the accounting, Candidate Bush proposed $1.3 trillion-$1.9 trillion in tax cuts in Campaign 2000. By way of contrast, Candidate Rubio's plan involves $6 trillion in tax cuts, and that's just the start of The Crazy.
You know, Marco Rubio, who is now sort of emerging as the establishment candidate, $6 trillion of unfunded tax cuts. Which he claims will pay for themselves, which is deep voodoo. And that's amazing, that a major party has gone that far down the crazy path.
Other plans by the leading contenders are much more extensive. Candidate Trump's exercise in lunacy has been scored at $11 trillion, to offer one example.
That's what Krugman had in mind when he said that Bush was relatively sane in Campaign 2000 while the current players are crazy. In a typical manifestation, Hayes didn't seem to know what Krugman meant. He never asked Krugman to state the numbers from Campaign 2000, which are dwarfed by the current numbers.
This brings us back to the haplessness of last Wednesday's debate. CNBC had assembled a trio of made-for-TV cable players who seemed to have little desire or ability to examine the way such budget matters works.
As Hayes noted, "the idea behind the CNBC debate is that it would be the debate focused on economic issues." As it turned out, CNBC's trio of players simply weren't up to this task.
Occasionally, they tried to discuss a few of the candidates' budget plans. Later this week, we'll look at the ways they proceeded.
More often, they flailed about, asking silly questions about polls or about "relationships" involving dietary supplements. Their incompetence was gross, astounding, relentless, routine.
The liberal world couldn't see this. Just like that, our intellectual leaders began insisting that these corporate dopes had actually done a good job.
Just for one brief shining moment, can we talk real talk? CNBC's Three Musketeers were not on the air because they're highly competent.
They were on the air for other reasons. They were on the air because they're telegenic, and because they provided the appropriate demographic mix. One moderator was on the air because he's a legacy player, just like Mika and Willie, his fellow incompetents.
Quintanilla was handsome and Hispanic; Quick and pretty and strawberry blonde; Harwood was handsome and second generation. The fact that they had the combined skill level of a sleeping galoot didn't seem to have occurred to their corporate bosses—and we liberals quickly began to pretend that they'd actually done a good job.
Who's dumber—CNBC's Three Musketeers or us? We'll examine their performance all week. But their work was sad, quite poor.
Those budget proposals are manifestly crazy. As the week proceeds, we'll marvel at the hapless way the moderators approached that remarkable fact.
One more point about Candidate Bush in 2000: In last Friday's column, Krugman snarked a bit about Candidate Bush 2000. We thought this passage was misleading, perhaps a bit deceptive:
KRUGMAN (10/30/15): Consider Mr. Rubio, who has emerged as the leading conventional candidate thanks to Jeb Bush’s utter haplessness. There was a time when Mr. Rubio’s insistence that $6 trillion in tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves would have marked him as deeply unserious, especially given the way his party has been harping on the evils of budget deficits. Even George W. Bush, during the 2000 campaign, at least pretended to be engaged in conventional budgeting, handing back part of a projected budget surplus.In Campaign 2000, did Candidate Bush pretend "to be engaged in conventional budgeting, handing back part of a projected budget surplus?"
In fact, he did hand back part of a projected budget surplus. Those were very different times. Even after his tax cuts passed in 2001, the OMB and the CBO were still projecting future surpluses!
Once again, let's talk:
Bush proposed less than $2 trillion in tax cuts at a time of large surpluses. At a time of projected deficits, Rubio is proposing $6 trillion in tax cuts; Trump is near $11 trillion.
Hayes didn't seem to know about this. Last week, CNBC's moderators didn't even seem to know where their pitiful factoids had come from.
As liberals, we never stop accepting this level of performance. By late last week, we were grateful just for the chance to claim that Carson had lied!