David Leonhardt, the neo-liberal economic voice for the Times, used an exceedingly lame argument to accuse the Tea Party movement of hypocrisy on fighting the deficit, in his front-page "Economic Scene" column Wednesday, "Greece, Debt And a Lesson - A Red Ink Question: Is U.S. So Different?"
It's easy to look at the protesters and the politicians in Greece - and at the other European countries with huge debts - and wonder why they don't get it. They have been enjoying more generous government benefits than they can afford. No mass rally and no bailout fund will change that. Only benefit cuts or tax increases can.
The United States will probably not face the same kind of crisis as Greece, for all sorts of reasons. But the basic problem is the same. Both countries have a bigger government than they're paying for. And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem.
We, the people, are.
We have not figured out the kind of government we want. We're in favor of Medicare, Social Security, good schools, wide highways, a strong military - and low taxes. Dealing with this disconnect will be the central economic issue of the next decade, in Europe, Japan and this country.
Many people, including some who claim to be outraged by the deficit, still haven't acknowledged the disconnect. Just last weekend, Tea Party members helped deny Senator Robert Bennett, the Utah Republican, his party's nomination for his re-election campaign, in part because he had co-sponsored a health reform plan with a Democratic senator. Economists generally think the plan would have done more to reduce Medicare spending than the bill that passed. So, whatever its intentions, the Tea Party effectively punished Mr. Bennett for not being a big enough fan of big government.
See if you can follow Leonhardt's tortured rationale.
Tea Party opposition may have cost Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah his party's nomination, in part because he had co-sponsored a health reform plan with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. Leonhardt claimed that "economists generally think the plan would have done more to reduce Medicare spending than the bill that passed," i.e., the more expensive Obama-care. In Leonhardt's world, this somehow means the Tea Party movement isn't serious about cutting government spending.
But the Tea Party movement was against high-cost Obama-care as well. Doesn't it follow that it should be the supporters of Obama-care (like Leonhardt) that are to blame for keeping Medicare spending too high?
And whatever happened to the liberal and media argument that Obama-care would in fact be a cost-saving device? The Congressional Budget Office now says the law will cost $115 billion more than previously thought over the next 10 years, according to ABC News' Jake Tapper.
Leonhardt again called for Obama to break his campaign promise (which Times reporters fiercely defended during the campaign) to not raise taxes on those making under $250,000 a year.
Or consider the different fates of two parts of President Obama's agenda. Mr. Obama has unrealistically said that taxes do not need to rise on households making less than $250,000, and this position has come to be seen as an ironclad vow. He has also called for billions of dollars in sensible cuts to agribusiness subsidies, tax loopholes and the like. The news media and Congress have largely ignored these proposals.