The Budget Free-for-All
Krugman is more single-issue obsessed, even more repetitive. He is also very influential with President Obama and congressional Democrats. Krugman’s belligerent columns declaring that deficits do not matter and, if anything, should be larger now are a major reason why Democrats in Congress have been happier to have no deals and to propose or pass no budgets than to commit the sin of deficit reduction (what Krugman calls "austerity"). The Princeton economics professor argues that government needs to step in aggressively if the economy is weak, and run big deficits to replace missing private spending. And his notion of government stepping in to strengthen the economy means that government needs to spend a lot more, not provide new tax cuts.
Krugman thought the near $900 billion stimulus in 2009 was far too small. He is unconcerned with the details of new spending in stimulus bills: the only thing that matters it that the money go out the door.
Krugman is far less supportive of tax cuts to stimulate the economy. That is because he is more comfortable with government-directed spending (even though he does not care where it is spent) than he is with people having more money in their pockets from tax cuts and making decisions for themselves.
Krugman, who has been hypocritical almost as often as he has been flat-out wrong, supported austerity when it came to the Bush tax cuts back in 2001. Those cuts also occurred at a time of a faltering economy. But then, Krugman was concerned with deficits. Now Krugman hates austerity, and has written several dozen near-identical columns to attack the stupid Europeans for taking austerity measures to balance their budgets. Krugman believes our deficit needs to be much larger today, since all that additional spending will reduce the number of long-term unemployed. Exactly how Krugman believes the hundreds of billions in new spending he proposes will accomplish that is unclear.
The third major division is over whether the American people have already voted in November for Obama and the Senate Democrats' approach rather than the Ryan plan. This argument was put in play in the fight over the sequester. Had Americans already decided that they wanted to replace a big part of the sequester spending cuts with tax increases, as opposed to keeping the cuts or replacing them with alternative spending cuts? The big proponent of “the people have already decided approach” has been the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who has lately appeared in the role of Paul Krugman’s acolyte by pushing hard with the anti-austerity theme.
The self-styled wonk and graphs lover who has played the role of Obama protector for several years was quick on the draw with an article attacking Bob Woodward after Woodward argued that Obama was moving the goalposts by pushing for more taxes instead of sequester spending cuts. Klein said Woodward was wrong since the voters had already moved the goalposts in November. Klein must not have been referring to these Obama voters who were interviewed about the sequester, and were unsure whether it was a good idea for the president to “pardon the sequester and send him to Portugal."
House Speaker Boehner also entered this argument this week, saying the 2012 election results were decided on personality more than policy. Klein is, of course, wrong that the sequester was a key issue for voters, or even came up much in the presidential campaign, though Obama was quite persistent with his broader theme that he favored targeted investments (spending) and higher taxes on rich people.
In any case, the two parties will not agree on a budget approach or a grand bargain to reduce the deficit. One side thinks deficits really matter (and need to come down through slowing spending growth), and the other side, whose core belief is that government (other than defense) should always expand, believes deficits matter little or maybe should be bigger, and if they come down at all, they should only be addressed through tax increases on the rich or defense cuts.
What we will get is continuing resolutions and more campaigning than compromise. It is, after all, only 20 months until the 2014 midterms.