Walz's math isn't merely fuzzy - it's fantasy
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Politicians saying one thing, doing the exact opposite, and assuming the voting public is too dumb to notice. But nothing prepared me for Tim Walz’s May 1 Post-Bulletin guest column.
The column was entitled "National debt will drag us down if we don't act quickly." In the first third of the column Walz spells out how spiraling debt is going to hit this country like a sledgehammer on a tomato. And on that point he’s right. Our politicians have been handing out money like Kleenex at an allergy convention. It’s turning the United States of America into a third-rate banana republic.
But then Walz tries to pull a Jedi mind trick. He lists ways that he’s made the deficit grow, and then claims he’s made it shrink.
At the top of the list is health care reform. Walz repeats the well-worn statement that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score shows the health care reform bill will actually lower the deficit.
But what Walz doesn’t say is that the CBO can’t question the unrealistic assumptions Congress gives it. As one former CBO director described it "Fantasy in. Fantasy out." The health care reform bill adds a trillion dollars in new spending. (That’s the real part). Then says that future Congresses will make deep cuts in Medicare, thus causing an overall decrease in the deficit. (That’s the fantasy part).
Congress has never followed through with Medicare cuts this deep, and the Health and Human Services Actuary calls them "unrealistic." But the CBO is forced to include all of Congress’s promises of future spending cuts.
For example, to lower the deficit, the CBO requires that Congress follow through on a promised 21 percent cut in what Medicare pays doctors. Without this cut alone, the health care bill increases the deficit, and (surprise! surprise!) as of April 15, Congress has put off those cuts. As of this moment, the health care bill increases the deficit.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We have a built-in deficit every year mainly because of two runaway entitlement programs – Social Security and Medicare. Combined they account for almost 40 percent of the federal budget, and they’re on pace to take 100 percent of the budget by 2050. But now instead of two runaway entitlement programs, we have three.
So at time when we can’t afford the entitlements we already have, Tim Walz voted for a trillion-dollar new entitlement, paid for it with gimmicks, and is calling that fiscal responsibility.
By comparison the rest of Walz’s misinformation is small potatoes, but misinformation nonetheless. Walz claims that the $787 billion stimulus bill will lower the deficit even though the CBO said it will increase the deficit. Walz brags that Congress has instituted "Pay-as-You-Go" budgeting, but doesn’t mention that Congress bypasses "Pay-as-You-Go" whenever they feel like it. Walz praises President Obama for proposing a three-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, but leaves out the fact that Obama has already increased that same spending by 84 percent.
But again the real key are the entitlements. Social Security. Medicare. Now health care reform. All paid for with IOU’s and by shifting fantasy money from one broken entitlement to another. Once in place they never go away, because voters who get "free" stuff from the government fight for a bigger piece of their pay and don’t care how the country as whole suffers.
And there are plenty of politicians who count on that. Local liberals have said it right here on the Post-Bulletin’s Opinion page: Once people get used to all the new benefits, the health care reform will be set in stone and will only expand. As liberal columnist Joe Klein recently wrote "Economic crises come and go, but entitlements are forever."
Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised by Walz’s brazenness. Walz ran as someone who was going to expand entitlements and also was going to lower the deficit. You can’t do both.
But then again, politicians' double talk is really a mirror of our own contradictions. We like politicians who tell us what we want to hear. Or at least we have.
There are some signs that things might be changing. Paul Ryan, a Congressman from next-door Wisconsin, has laid out a real plan to put the country back on a sound path. It protects current retirees, but for the rest of us it’s going to require a change in our thinking, just like a person who lives in credit card debt has to change their way of thinking to become debt free.
We can get there. But we won’t get there with gimmicks. We won’t get there by claiming huge new entitlements lower the deficit.