During a pre-recorded commentary aired on CBS's Sunday Morning show, right-leaning actor and economist Ben Stein - also a CBS contributor - blamed "excessive tax cuts" enacted by President Bush and congressional Republicans for "starting the problem" of the current federal budget deficit, and advocated raising taxes on the wealthy in addition to "major spending cuts" and changes in Medicare and Social Security to get the deficit under control. Stein: "The Republicans who started the problem with excessive tax cuts in the Bush years will have to agree to raise taxes at least upon the truly rich of whom there are plenty."
And, while ignoring the presence of a Republican Congress that helped restrain spending growth during the Clinton administration, and the temporary spike in tax revenue fueled by an unsustainable tech bubble, Stein concluded his commentary praising former President Bill Clinton and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as "grown-ups," awarding them credit for the balanced budget of the late 1990s.
Stein: "The grown-ups like Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin - his Treasury Secretary who actually balanced the budget - left the federal fiscal scene more than 10 years ago. Now it's time to live within our means. No more voodoo economics. We can do it. The first step is back through the looking glass into reality. We've got to do it."
Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Sunday, April 17, Sunday Morning on CBS:
CHARLES OSGOOD: So where do America's finances stand on this tax-filing eve? Here's our contributor Ben Stein.
BEN STEIN: As I make my way around the nation these days, travelers come up to me and ask me about the federal budget: Are we about to go broke? Will we have a crisis? Whose fault is it all? So here's a little lesson on the subject. We are not about to go broke. Our total federal debt is roughly equal to our yearly national output as an economy, the Gross Domestic Product. This is a very high ratio not seen since World War II.
But we've survived that high debt largely because the economy was growing fast, the big deficit stopped, and the federal debt as a relative matter shrank. Nowadays, we have immense deficits added to the debt for years to come with no end in sight. And the economy is growing slowly - maybe not at all. At some unknown point, the debt will be so large relative to the national output that our U.S. Treasury and Securities will be downgraded in terms of credit quality. That will raise borrowing costs, already a massive expense, and be a shock altogether.
But we cannot go broke as a government because the Federal Reserve, a part of the government, can literally print money, as much money as it wants. And that money is, well, money except as such we can't run out of it. The problem there is that if we print too much, we'll probably have inflation, and that's bad for most Americans. Can all these problems be solved? Well, as my old dad, the economist Herbert Stein - used to say, if something cannot go on forever it will stop. So these huge deficits will stop.
The Republicans who started the problem with excessive tax cuts in the Bush years will have to agree to raise taxes at least upon the truly rich of whom there are plenty. The Democrats will have to agree to major spending cuts. I hope these will not be in defense, but some probably will be. Social Security and Medicare will be changed a lot. All in all, we Americans just promised ourselves more than we can deliver. We lived in a dream world. The grown-ups like Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin - his Treasury Secretary who actually balanced the budget - left the federal fiscal scene more than 10 years ago. Now it's time to live within our means. No more voodoo economics. We can do it. The first step is back through the looking glass into reality. We've got to do it.
- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center