Monday Wake-Up Call – October 19, 2015

Page A21 of Friday’s New York Times carried the news that our budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended on September 30th was $439 billion, or $44 billion less than the prior year, and nearly $1 trillion less than its peak during the Great Recession. Oh, and it equaled just 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Wall Street Journal reported that the budget shortfall was 9% lower than last year, and at its lowest level since 2007.

If the “paper of record” buries this story, don’t expect to see it on the nightly news, or the Sunday bloviator shows. Yet, it was not very long ago that the media was obsessed with the budget deficit, egged on by Republicans who returned incessantly to Talking Points 101 from their slash Social Security and Medicare playbook . The WSJ provides a history of recent deficits:

Deficit History

The surplus on the top graph occurred during the Clinton administration. That would be about the same time that “spending” began exceeding “revenue” on the second graph.

The budget deficit is less of a problem than it has been since 2007, and since our economy is larger, it is also even less as a share of US GDP. Indeed, at 2.5% of GDP, our current deficit is less than the average of the past 40 years. The increase in tax receipts from higher tax rates, an improving economy (and stock market), combined with marginal cuts in federal spending (the Sequester) have all helped drop the deficit by almost 75% from its 2009 high.

So the deficit is falling, but the total debt of the US government is still increasing.

The debt is the total amount of money the US government owes. It’s the amount borrowed to cover all the deficits over the years. When the fiscal year ended on September 30, the US government owed $13.124 trillion to the public (a measure that includes Treasury securities held by the Federal Reserve.) To see the current tally, see the Treasury’s “The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It” website.

To increase our debt, we have to increase the debt ceiling. But, once again, Congress can’t agree to increase the debt ceiling unless the Tea party faction of the Republican Party can score a few political points about Medicare, Social Security and Planned Parenthood.

Why does the Beltway media continue to fall for the Republican trope that they are the fiscally prudent party? We now have 35 years and five Presidents of proof that Republican Presidents spend like teenagers with their parents’ credit card.

But the “meh, so what?” emoji from the Beltway media after we cut $1 trillion from the deficit is truly disappointing. So today’s wake up is for the media who think that cutting the deficit is a low value target for our collective consciousness.

Today’s Wake Up is “For What It’s Worth”. Even though it is associated with Vietnam and Kent State, it isn’t an anti-war song. It was written about the “Sunset Strip riots” in November, 1966. From Wikipedia:

On one evening, 1,000 demonstrators gathered to protest against the enforcement of the curfew laws. Although the rallies began peacefully, trouble eventually broke out among the protesters and police. The unrest continued the next night and periodically throughout the rest of November and December forcing some clubs to shut down within weeks.

Here are Buffalo Springfield with “For What Its Worth”:

50 years later, this song is still relevant. That speaks to the song’s genius.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for our media and politicians.

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.