Republican strategists have a problem. The scale of what President Barack Obama proposes to do to the American economy is so enormous, so far-reaching and so potentially disastrous that the opposition party is having a hard time describing it.
By Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
“How do you translate the numbers into something that people can grasp to represent the broader problem?” a Republican pollster asked in a recent conversation. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders would love to hear an answer, but the pollster didn’t have one.
GOP message mavens are struggling with something that academics call “insensitivity to scope.” It affects us all; we can understand something on a small scale but have a difficult time comprehending the same thing on a massive scale.
Insensitivity to scope is a major obstacle to understanding the Obama administration’s $3.6 trillion 2010 budget. People simply have trouble understanding a number so big. A recent poll asked Americans how many million are in a trillion. Twenty-one percent of respondents got the answer right — it’s a million million. Most people thought it was a lot less.
Republicans are facing that obstacle as they try to explain the dimensions of Obama’s spending plan. The GOP pollster told me he tries to explain it by asking people to think of a dollar as a second — one dollar, one brief tick of your watch. A million seconds, the pollster explained, equals eleven days. A billion seconds equals 31 years. And a trillion seconds equals 310 centuries.
The task of educating voters got a little more urgent Monday, when the government announced the not-terribly-surprising news that federal tax revenues will be smaller this year than previously thought. After a review of the Obama budget’s numbers before formal submission to Congress, Budget Director Peter Orszag said this year’s deficit will be $1.841 trillion — $89 billion more than previously estimated. If you’re listening to the ticks of your watch, that’s about 570 centuries.
You may remember last week that Obama proposed, with much fanfare, $17 billion in budget cuts. Now, his budget director announces that the deficit will go up by $89 billion. “A paperwork change increased the size of the deficit more than five times greater than the savings they proposed last week,” one key Republican Senate aide told me. The deficit will likely grow again in a few months when the budget office does a routine midyear review.
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Washington Eaminer Editorial
There is a cleverly constructed sentence in the AP report about the 2009 budget deficit being $89 billion higher than expected, which will raise the projected annual deficit to $1.8 trillion, or nearly four times as much as the previous record. Here’s how AP explained it: “The unprecedented red ink flows from the deep recession, the Wall Street bailout, the cost of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill, as well as a structural imbalance between what the government spends and what it takes in (emphasis added).” In sports journalism, such a sentence is called covering for the home team, which in this case includes the present and previous White House occupants and the present majority in Congress.
The two key words in that sentence are “structural imbalance.” Sounds like something beyond the ability of mere mortals to change, doesn’t it? Part of the natural order, kind of like the swine flu. It just happens. Out in the real world beyond Washington, “structural imbalance” means: Washington politicians are on a spending rampage the likes of which has never before been seen anywhere in human history. The spenders include President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, plus a supporting cast of bureaucrats like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his predecessor, Henry Paulson, and the Democratic majorities in the Senate and House (joined by a few Senate Republicans). These officials are terminally afflicted with what Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, calls “federal spending disease” (FSD) an incurable addiction in which the sufferer is utterly unable to stop spending other people’s money. An intervention by voters is the only effective treatment.
If not treated promptly, FSD, like alcoholism, leads inevitably to complete physical breakdown, loss of homes, jobs, cars, respect, everything. The breakdown is not limited to the sufferer, however. Like the alcoholic who must drink hard liquor every waking moment, massive budget deficits are the key symptom of late-stage FSD. The alcoholic dies, but with FSD, the nation, not the spenders, goes bankrupt. Even today, with Obama just beginning to manage the government, Geithner’s Treasury department must offer higher interest rates on bonds it sells to finance planned deficits because bondholders worry about Washington’s future repayment ability if taxes are not soon hugely increased. But those increases would kill economic growth, sending government revenues spiraling downward and eventually leaving Washington only one choice – repudiation of debt or bankruptcy. Either way, American prosperity will be a distant memory for generations to come. Intervention cannot come too soon.