February 24, 2013

WaPo ‘Guppy’ Ezra Klein Lamely Claims 2012 Election Results Allow Obama to Break Pledge and Include Tax Increases in Sequestration Discussions

You take humor anywhere you can get it these days. Matt Drudge’s characterization of Washington Post WonkBlog editor Ezra Klein as a “guppy” (“WASH POST Guppy Says Legend is WRONG”) in linking to the 2007-2008 Jounolist conspiracy organizer’s pathetic attempt to refute Bob Woodward’s indisputably correct claims that sequestration was the brainchild of Obama administation officials and that “Obama personally approved” it is a morning-maker.

Rather than take Woodward head-on, Klein gutlessly goes after three words in his Friday piece: “moving the goalposts.” What Woodward wrote, followed by a portion of Klein’s clunker, appear after the jump.


First, Woodward (bolds are mine throughout this post):

In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.

Woodward is either ignorant of or doesn’t care about the economy-retarding effects of higher taxes (even more of them, as will be shown shortly), but for the moment that’s beside the point. Tax increases were deliberately kept out of the sequester, and by introducing them as a necessary condition for an agreement to stop it, Obama and the White House are inarguably “moving the goalposts.”

But  for Klein the Guppy, anything that was said and done in 2011 doesn’t matter, because, in his fevered mind, the 2012 election appears to have given Barack Obama the right to renege on anything said, done, or promised previously:

Think back to July 2011. The problem was simple. Republicans wouldn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling without trillions of dollars in deficit reduction. Democrats wouldn’t agree to trillions of dollars in deficit reduction if it didn’t include significant tax increases. Republicans wouldn’t agree to significant tax increases. The political system was at an impasse, and in a few short days, that impasse would create a global financial crisis.

The sequester was a punt. The point was to give both sides a face-saving way to raise the debt ceiling even though the tax issue was stopping them from agreeing to a deficit deal. The hope was that sometime between the day the sequester was signed into law (Aug. 2, 2011) and the day it was set to go into effect (Jan. 1, 2013), something would…change.

There were two candidates to drive that change. The first and least likely was the supercommittee. If they came to a deal that both sides accepted, they could replace the sequester. They failed.

The second was the 2012 election. If Republicans won, then that would pretty much settle it: No tax increases. If President Obama won, then that, too, would pretty much settle it: The American people would’ve voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.

The American people voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.

In fact, they went even further than that. They also voted for a Senate that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes. And then they voted for a House that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes, though due to the quirks of congressional districts, they didn’t get one.

The fact that Barack Obama squeaked out a victory which would have not occurred if fewer than 200,000 voters in four key swing states had pulled the lever for Mitt Romney instead of him supposedly proves most Americans want to “cut the deficit by increasing taxes” — and, it would appear, only by raising taxes. Further, in Klein’s cloud cuckooland, the fact that Republcans held the House doesn’t count, as they supposedly only did so because of gerrymandering. Lord have mercy.

Klein’s arguments are rubbish, on at least three levels.

First, Obama got his coveted post-election tax increases in the fiscal cliff deal. WaPo wonk Klein should (and I believe does) know that. As West Virginia Congressman David McKinley noted in a column at the Hill on January 3:

… the bill calls for $620 billion in increased tax revenues over ten years but incredibly includes only $15 billion in spending reductions.

Second, McKinley notes that Obama didn’t campaign on massive tax increases as the only solution:

That equates to a ratio of $1 in spending cuts to $41 in increased tax revenue, even though the president promised $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 in new revenue during his campaign.

McKinley is right about the ratio of promised “cuts” (really “reductions in projected spending growth”) to tax increases. That promise goes all the way back to February of last year, as CBS News noted in covering the President’s budget proposal:

The plan calls for deficit reduction to be achieved chiefly by slashing government expenditures. Obama is proposing $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 dollar the government would raise in revenue by raising taxes on high income-earners and from eliminating corporate tax breaks.

Simple math would dictate that Obama owes America $1.535 trillion in “cuts” ($620 billion x 2.5, minus the puny $15 billion).

Third, Klein’s claim that the GOP would not have won the House if congressional districts nationwide weren’t so gerrymandered is comical, given the Democrat-driven congressional maps in California, New York, and Illinois, three of the nation’s five largest states containing 23% of the nation’s population. In a recent column, Michael Barone, who has forgotten more about U.S. politics than Ezra Klein will probably ever know, acknowledged the partial relevance of the gerrymandering argument, but made the following at least equally important point: “… the Obama core constituencies — blacks, Hispanics, gentry liberals — tend to be clustered geographically in central city neighborhoods in big metropolitan areas. His big margins there helped him carry many electoral votes but not so many congressional districts.”

Klein’s cacophonous collection of what nearly rises to the threshold of calumny against colleague Woodward demonstrates the point I made yesterday:

When push comes to shove and the Obama administration is pushed into the corner, … the press instinctively leap(s) to its defense in knee-jerk fashion, even when reporters know that the White House and its apparatchiks are lying.

Klein knows that the sequester was Obama’s idea. He knows that Obama has moved the goalposts. He doesn’t care. He’s another person who, as I also suggested yesterday, should be ignored: “Leave it to the intrepid folks at MRC (the Media Research Center), NewsBusters, and other media watchdog sites to endure” guppies like Ezra Klein.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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1 Comment

  1. What do you make of this post from justoneminute? They are siding with Ezra for some reason!

    http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2013/02/im-going-with-the-guppy.html

    Comment by zf — February 24, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

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