February 12, 2013

Standard AP Boilerplate (e.g., ‘Bush Also Ran Annual Deficits’) Reappears in Report on January’s Surplus

In all too predictable fashion, the Associated Press’s Martin Crutsinger, in his first and perhaps only report (saved here for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes) on January’s Monthly Treausry Statment which showed a small surplus, pulled out the old “Bush ran deficits too” bromide to minimize the historically outsized deficits the Obama has overseen.

Crutsinger also erroneously reported that the government turned in its first monthly surplus since April of last year (no, it was really September of last year), told readers that “the government is spending less on some programs” without telling them that total year-to-date spending so far is up by over 3 percent compared the first four months of fiscal 2012, and made it appear as if “higher taxes for some Americans” are narrowing the budget gap a bit, when the fiscal cliff raised taxes for every employed and self-employed person who pays into the Social Security system. Other than that, he did a good job (/sarc). Exceprts follow the jump (bolds and numbered tags are mine):

The federal government reported a rare surplus for January and is on track to run its smallest annual budget deficit since President Barack Obama took office.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the government took in a surplus of $2.9 billion in January. That’s the first monthly surplus since April [1], a month that benefited from income tax payments.

January’s budget benefited from an estimated $9 billion in extra revenue from higher Social Security taxes. That helped lowered the deficit through the first four months of the budget year to $290.4 billion – nearly $60 billion lower than the same period a year ago.

… The annual deficit is projected to be smaller this year because the government is collecting more revenue this year, mainly because of faster job growth and higher taxes.

At the same time, the government is spending less on some programs. [2] That’s in part because of spending cuts that were enacted under a 2011 agreement to raise the federal borrowing limit. Also, the improved economy has reduced demand for unemployment benefits and some other government programs.

Another factor in a smaller expected deficit is higher taxes for some Americans this year. [3] When Congress and the White House reached a deal in January to avert the fiscal cliff, they allowed taxes to rise on individuals earning at least $400,000 a year and couples earning $450,000. And the agreement allowed a 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security tax to expire, thereby raising taxes on nearly everyone who earns a paycheck. This year’s higher Social Security tax is projected to raise about $10 billion more a month in revenue.

… Republicans and President Barack Obama agree on the need for a plan to contain the deficits. But they are at odds over the details. Republicans want to trim growth in Social Security and Medicare spending but oppose any further tax increases.

Obama has said he is willing to consider cuts in the growth of entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. But he argues that a balanced approach will require further tax increases on the highest earners. [4]

Obama’s presidency has coincided with four straight $1 trillion-plus deficits. [5]

President George W. Bush also ran annual deficits through most of his two terms in office [6] after he won approval for broad tax cuts and launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Notes:

[1] — There was a surplus of $75.2 billion in September 2012. My calendar says that September 2012 arrived after April 2012.

[2] — The government may be spending less on certain (unspecified) programs, but overall spending through four months is at $1.178 trillion, up from $1.139 trillion, or 3.4%, through the first four months of fiscal 2012.

[3] — The rest of this paragraph shows that the higher taxes hit anyone who is employed or self-employed and pays into the Social Security system. That not “some Americans.” It’s a large majority of all Americans.

[4] — In case anyone is delusional enough to believe that President Obama is done demagoging the rich now that he got his pound of flesh in the fiscal cliff deal, you can forget about it.

[5] — “Concided”? It’s as if these four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits just fell out of the sky and Obama had no influence on their size, or even their existence. Zheesh.

[6] — Reported deficits during the final seven years and four months of Bush 43′s presidency totaled $2.68 trilliion, an average of $366 billion per year during the 7-1/3 years involved. Obama’s deficits thus far in four years total $4.99 trillion — an average of $1.25 trillion per year, or well over triple Bush 43′s annual rate. Saying that Bush ran deficits too without putting their size in context (average: 70% lower) is clearly misleading. And Crutsinger’s tired contention about war costs doesn’t stand up, as I have shown several times (here, here, and here).

The news leads tonight, if the budget gets mentioned at all (the press probably won’t want anything to get in the way of the State of Our Gun-Control Efforts — er, State of the Union — speech), will probably be that the government ran a small surplus because of “spending cuts.” If so, it ain’t so.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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