Jonathan Chait

Charles Krauthammer Laughs At Arithmetic

By

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Suppose someone - say, the president of United States - proposed the following: We are drowning in debt. More than $14 trillion right now. I've got a great idea for deficit reduction. It will yield a savings of $230 billion over the next 10 years: We increase spending by $540 billion while we increase taxes by $770 billion.

He'd be laughed out of town.

Uh... why? As I noted the other day, "Conservatives think the notion that a piece of legislation can spend some money to cover the uninsured, while simultaneously cutting spending and raising taxes by some greater sum,  so that the overall bill reduces the deficit, is conceptually absurd." It would literally be impossible to craft a bill that provided for universal coverage and also reduced the deficit and have Republicans accept its accounting as valid.

Krauthammer holds this belief so strongly that he presents a straightforward arithmetic property -- $770 billion in revenues minus $540 billion in spending equals $230 billion in lower deficits -- as not just wrong but hilariously wrong: Why, they're increasing spending while increases taxes more, while claiming this will reduce the deficit! The morans!

Indeed, Krauthammer deems the "$770 billion > $540 billion" scoring method so self-evidently silly he doesn't even bother to refute it. The paragraph I quoted is all the refutation he deems necessary.

Now, increasing spending by $540 billion and increasing taxes by $770 billion is a ridiculous way to reduce the size of government. But, despite Republican efforts to conflate the two, the size of government is not the same thing as the debt, as even Milton Friedman recognized.

So Krauthammer, convinced that $540 billion is clearly larger than $770 billion, proceeds to recycle some familiar Republican talking points attempting to cast doubt on the CBO score. His shining example is the endlessly repeated saw that the law combines six years of benefits with ten years of revenue in order to appear revenue-neutral:

Most glaringly, the entitlement it creates - government-subsidized health insurance for 32 million Americans - doesn't kick in until 2014. That was deliberately designed so any projection for this decade would cover only six years of expenditures - while that same 10-year projection would capture 10 years of revenue. With 10 years of money inflow vs. six years of outflow, the result is a positive - i.e., deficit-reducing - number. Surprise.

That would be bad if true. But it's not true:

The benefits phase in slowly as do the revenues. Krauthammer's six years of benefits/ten years of revenue canard would mean that, once fully phased in, the costs dramatically exceed the revenue. That isn't the case. The law's effect deficit-reduction effect increases over the last ten years.

Health care analysts have pointed this out over and over. Yet conservatives like Krauthammer keep repeating these debunked claims. Either Krauthammer lives so deep within the right's misinformation feedback loop that he has never heard any refutation of his false claims, or else he simply doesn't care what's true.

Anyway, Krauthammer frames his entire column as a plea for concern with the deficit. If this were truly his concern, as Austin Frakt points out, why don't Republicans propose to repeal just the coverage expansions in the PPACA, and keep all the cost savings? Or even just some of them? if they refuse to violate their religious opposition to tax hikes, they could just keep in place the Medicare cuts and repeal the coverage expansions. that would undeniably shrink the deficit, and the size of government. But they won't even consider that. The bad faith at work here is just staggering.

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Show all 9 comments

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.