Hey, Whatever Happened To The Deficit Anyway

Remember the deficit? We couldn’t talk about anything else as a nation for a while there. Then the topic rolled off the table like a pea and has been languishing on the floor ever since.

Steven Benen at Maddow’s blog on MSNBC.com complains that, under Obama, the deficit has been shrinking. And yet most people believe that, if anything, the opposite must be true.

Americans have no idea what’s happening with the deficit … Whether or not Americans know and/or understand the basics of the fiscal argument may not have a practical impact on the debate itself, but the fact remains that voters are ultimately responsible for electing policymakers. If Americans believe, incorrectly, that the deficit is getting bigger, and they also consider this a bad thing, these same voters may be inclined to vote for candidates who’ll slash public investments and undermine social-insurance programs. And that has real-world consequences.

He supplies a handy chart, since everyone likes a visual:

budget deficit chart MSNBC

So, okay, a smaller deficit. Cool. When I looked into Benen’s argument, though, that Americans have been misled on the issue by shrill Republicans, I immediately found an article from this summer on Fox Business titled “Deficit Is Disappearing.”

the deficit has shrunk in recent years.

As the economy has recovered from the nasty recession that followed the financial crisis, the deficit has declined by more than two-thirds, from $1.4 trillion in 2009 to $412 billion at the end of May, according to the Treasury Department. The most recent figure marks the lowest 12-month deficit since August 2008.

The Fox analyst credits the stand offs in Washington with creating an atmosphere of “fiscal restraint,” which, ha, okay. Still, he acknowledges, and quotes experts citing, some basic facts about which even Benen, I think, could agree.

“It’s an emotional issue for most people, not a substantive one,” [Collender] said.

To illustrate his point, Collender used an analogy often used by so-called ‘deficit hawks’ who argue American households have to balance their budgets. But, in fact, most American households carry a considerable amount of debt in the form of a mortgage, debt that benefits the family as long as there’s a job and an income to pay it down. …

Politically, none of the erstwhile loudest voices that decried the deficit – the most conservative members of the GOP, tea party organizers and academic deficit cutting activists – currently stand to benefit from the issue, so they’re leaving it alone.

Was the issue of the deficit ever one that you cared about? Did you know that we had been chipping away at it, or if you didn’t know, and you know now, does that change your mind about anything?

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