Off the Radar: Budget deficit

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Looks like John McCain want to put the national debt – or at least current budget deficits – back on the radar.

In a speech today, McCain promised to balance the budget in four years.  However, the devil may be in the details:

It is unclear how Mr. McCain plans to balance the budget, given that fiscal analysts who have examined his economic plans say that his calls to extend the Bush tax cuts while cutting corporate and other taxes would likely increase the deficit.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo goes a little bit further with his critique of McCain’s plan:

Now, the general routine is the face of this kind of candidate announcement is that journalists and economists look at the numbers to see if they add up. In most cases, the exercises generates fairly unsatisfying contradictory opinions, with some experts saying one thing and other experts another.

But here’s the thing. McCain doesn’t have any numbers. None. Not vague numbers of fuzzy math. He just says he’s going to do it. Any other candidate would get laughed off the stage with that kind of nonsense or more likely reporters just wouldn’t agree to give them a write up. But this is all over the place.

The simple truth is that given his foreign policy promises in Iraq and tax cut promises at home there’s really no way McCain could come up with even a fuzzy plan to balance the budget in his first term. So he’s decided instead just promise it. Included in his white paper is just the standard hocum about cutting waste, fraud and abuse in government and making sure we have “reasonable economic growth.”

It must be great to be writing policy papers for the McCain campaign.  Back in my own campaign days (a Republican candidate for mayor in 2003 and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2004), I was tasked largely with researching and writing up the substantive material that backed up the candidates’ proposals and plans.  Time and again it was impressed upon me by the higher ups on the campaign just how important it was to get all of the facts straight, make sure all of the numbers added up and cite everything.  Otherwise, the press would pick at the one piece that wasn’t airtight and turn the whole thing into a process story about how screwed up the campaign was for not catching the mistake.  The policy ideas themselves would be lost.

Apparently those rules don’t apply anymore.  If that had been the case a few years ago, instead of researching those papers, calling the “experts” for information and meticulously sourcing everything, I could have just thrown down a few vague promises, attached a picture of the magic wand and called it a day.  And man, I could have used a few more three-beer lunches back then.

That said, the budget deficit and the long term implications of our growing national debt are incredibly important issues for this campaign and so far, aside from attacks on the current administration for turning a $4 trillion surplus into a $9 trillion debt, they gotten little serious consideration.

One group is seeking to change that and has been on a Grateful Dead-like tour of the country for the past few years trying to drum up support.  They even had a concert film of sorts made which has turned into something of a film festival darling.

I can’t say much now, but I’ll prime the pump by letting you know that they’ve got big plans for Philadelphia in the fall in an attempt to make this region the start of a nationwide push to put the national debt issue on the radar in a big way.

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