Factcheck: The Budget Debt/Deficit Claims

Lots of conflicting claims have been made throughout the past few weeks about a wide array of sexy, hot topics as the debt ceiling, deficit spending and the social utility of social spending. And some real big ones have been told in the course of it all. Here is a list of seven of the biggest whoppers, complete with links to check them out for yourself:

1) On Raising the Debt Ceiling: “It isn’t true that the government would default on its debt because very simply the Treasury secretary can pay the interest on the debt first and then from there we have to just prioritize our spending.” Claimed by: Minnesota Rep. Bachmann, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Factcheck.org noted that the Treasury Department said it would run out of legal borrowing authority around Aug. 2, and so budget cuts could not be phased in or spread over months or years. If no new funds were borrowed and all interest on our debts were paid, plus current account payments to Social Security and Medicare recipients were maintained, the budget for everything else including the active military, military pensions, veterans benefits, judges, prosecutors, highway construction, food stamps, Medicaid services for low- and middle-income workers and all the rest of it would have to be cut by 53 percent. Overnight.

2) On the Source of our deficit problems: “It is the reckless spending of Obama and the Democrats that has put us in this predicament.” Claimed by: Nearly every Republican who has spoken publicly in the last 2 years.

In the New York Times, Teressa Tritch points out that, among other things, it’s the Bush tax cuts that have had a damaging effect on the bottom line. They didn’t create jobs as promised, and they have made a huge contribution to the deficit. If all of them simply expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half to sustainable levels. Tritch also supplies this handy graph:


Source: The New York Times


3) On the dueling debt plans: “Harry Reid’s plan is basically giving the president a blank check.” Claimed by: Eric Cantor on Tues., July 26, 2011, in a TV interview and repeated often by Republican leaders.

Politifact rated this “False.” They ran it past Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute who said: “Congress has to authorize new spending and changes in taxation … The president can sign or veto those bills. He can’t do anything without congressional authority.” Ornstein added, “Cantor is being totally, deliberately misleading.” Mind you, that’s from a fellow conservative.

4) On comparing records: “What were the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats.” Claimed by: Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling and others

FactCheck found that to be false, noting, among other things, that Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit from President Bush on the day he was sworn into office. They cite a CBO report for January 2009, saying:“The federal fiscal situation in 2009 will be dramatically worse than it was in 2008. Under the assumption that current laws and policies remain in place (that is, not accounting for any new legislation), CBO estimates that the deficit this year will total $1.2 trillion.” This debt rightly falls on the Republican side of the ledger.

5) On tax increases killing the economy: “Every time we’ve cut the capital gains tax, the economy has grown. Whenever we raise the capital gains tax, it’s been damaged.” Claimed by: Grover Norquist on Wed., July 13, 2011, in an interview on CNN.

Politifact gave Grover-the-Tax-Grouch a “False” rating for that, citing a study by the Tax Policy Center that found “Capital gains rates display no contemporaneous correlation with real GDP growth during the last 50 years.”

6) On the social utility of social spending programs: “Since 1965, the United States has spent ‘untold trillions,’ yet the poverty rate hasn’t budged.” Claimed by: Bill O’Reilly on Tues., July 26, 2011, in a comment on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”

Politifact gave that a “false” rating, noting among other things that “In 1967, about 30 percent of seniors were below the poverty line. That was down to 13.2 percent by 2008” Politifact noted that “We ran all of our critiques by a number of independent experts, including both liberals and conservatives, and they agreed that O’Reilly was incorrect.”

7) On being loosely tethered to reality in general: “The debt-limit hobbits should also realize that at this point the Washington fracas they are prolonging isn’t helping their cause. Republicans are not looking like adults to whom voters can entrust the government.” Claimed in: A review and outlook piece in the very conservative Wall Street Journal.

Actually, everyone I have spoken to gives this a “True, thumbs up” rating and regards it as a big, whopping truth. After all, it’s in the Wall Street Journal. I have no issue with it. Thanks for chipping in, Rupert and company.


Marquee photograph from iStockphoto