Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

My beloved right-wing correspondent continues to forward pieces to me, of varying quality. It's always instructive to see how the other side thinks, and what shapes their thinking. I get Erick Erickson's RedState Briefings every morning for just that reason.

I've been busier than a one-legged Riverdancer so I haven't had the time to comment on the torrent of right-wing propaganda in my Inbox, even though I wanted to. I'm up early now so I'll give it a whirl:

This Michael Reagan piece is ridiculously easy to swat down; it's ludicrous. His claim that the Demos has a "death grip" on the Congress during Bush's last years ignores the six years when the Congress gave him nearly everything he wanted in the way of tax cuts and deregulation, the principal causes (along with the housing bubble) of the crisis we're in now. As I've noted several times earlier, Bush's spending spree was far more egregious than Obama's (which is largely driven by automatic stabilizers).

Please note that when the Ds control Congress, they impose "pay-go" rules requiring new programs to be offset by comparable spending reductions or new revenues. When Rs take over the Congress, they repeal those rules.

Several of these article writers suffer from the delusion that Obama's health insurance reforms are a huge drain on the treasury. No, that would be GW Bush's Medicare "reforms," which were not paid for, and represent huge subsidies to Big Pharma and Big Insurance. Obamacare not only pays for itself, but reduces the deficit - by trillions when fully implemented. Repealing it would increase the deficit, as the CBO has repeatedly found.

Bernie Goldberg's sophistry about the tax code is a longtime rightwing trope, often debunked and never abandoned. It involves citing statistics from the income tax alone and ignoring the rest of the tax burden - or lack of same - on Americans of disparate income groups. To pick just a few examples, poor people pay far higher percentages of their income in payroll taxes, and rich people whose income derive largely from investments are paying extremely low capital gains taxes, enjoying much lower tax rates than wage-earners. This is lying with statistics, pure and simple.

Thomas Sowell seriously misstates the causes of the crisis, seemingly believing there was no financial crash at all before Obama took over and started spending like mad:
Why was there a financial crisis in the first place? Because of runaway spending that sent the national debt up against the legal limit. But when all the big spending bills were being rushed through Congress, the Democrats had such an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress that nothing the Republicans could do made the slightest difference.
The crash came on Bush's watch, because Greenspan ignored the housing bubble and deregulated banks passed junk bonds based on inflated mortgages around the world. Obama's (partially) successful stimulus spending came later. But he and the Dems never enjoyed an "overwhelming majority" in the Senate, thanks to Ted Kennedy's brain cancer, the litigation over Al Franken's seat, and Mitch McConnell's constitutional hardball. They managed to scrape 60 votes together a few times during the few weeks after Franken was finally seated, before Kennedy was completely incapacitated. The refusal of Republicans to extend the longtime courtesy of canceling out a dying Senator's absence by having one of their own abstain (as Dems did for Strom Thurmond) is part of the hardball I refer to.

This piece by the "Fact-Checker", Glenn Kessler, is the kind of thinking I like to read, whether from the right or the left: fact-based and substantive. He quotes the president speaking to well-heeled donors at a fundraiser, then dissects the claims:
“And by the way, these choices are not radical. When it comes to getting a sustainable debt level, if we went back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president and we made some modest adjustments to Medicare that preserved the integrity of the system, our long-term debt and deficit problems would go away. And most people here wouldn’t notice those changes.”
— President Obama, August 8, 2011
I don't have time to fact-check all his fact-checking myself, but I will say this: I assume that Obama's audience at that fundraiser understood, as I do, that simply allowing Bush tax cuts to sunset in their entirety - as the original law passed by the GOP Congress (with help from Dems) and signed by Bush was designed to do - would, indeed, almost completely erase our projected long-term deficit.

I also understand, as his audience no doubt did, that Obama's stated policy and campaign promise was to raise taxes back to Clinton-era rates only for those making over a quarter million a year, and allowing the rest of us to stay at our current marginal rates. This move would only eliminate about 40% of projected long-term deficits, which is still far more than any GOP-proposed spending cuts.

But Obama was saying, correctly, that if we "do nothing" and no additional tax legislation is passed and signed, our deficit (not our debt) will more or less disappear - even without any spending cuts (which Obama is also calling for).

Finally, this Walter Williams piece was both dishonest and despicable. More on that later.

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