Dr. Peter R. Orszag, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, testified before Congress yesterday, saying that the revenue effects of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are "roughly size of the federal deficit today.”
It's not like the Bush tax cuts caused the deficit. GOP spending — including out-of-control earmarks and that little thing called Iraq — bear a great deal of responsibility. But the implication is that without Bush's tax cuts, we could have paid for Mr. Bush's war. Or maybe some better stuff for the country.
I got the link to Orszag's testimony in an email that attempted to relate the Bush deficit to "the state deficit whose existence [Gov. Pawlenty] set out to 'cure' with massive cuts in social spending." As tempting as the parallel might be to draw, the fact is, Minnesota cannot pass an unbalanced budget or operate from a deficit — though it can borrow through bonding for capital projects such as roads.
Rather than try to tie Pawlenty to Bush's fiscal irresponsibility, we should hold him accountable for his own cunning.
Two and a half years ago, Britt Robson neatly summarized Gov. Tim Pawlenty's "solution" to a budget crisis he helped create:
In some ways the checkered two-year reign of Tim Pawlenty has looked less like an exercise in governance than a deliberate and increasingly harrowing game of chicken. Since famously signing on to the Taxpayers League of Minnesota's "no new taxes" pledge during his 2002 gubernatorial run — a classic instance of a politician being led in shackles to exactly the spot where he meant to stand all along — Pawlenty has remained steadfast in his commitment to austerity now and forever. His first budget cycle, in 2003, found the state facing a $4.2 billion hole in its finances that Pawlenty himself, as a tax-hawking member of the state legislature, had been instrumental in creating.
Pawlenty balanced that first biennial budget with a flurry of fiscal derring-do that left many legislators and onlookers alike to sort out later what had actually happened:
* $2 billion in cuts to state services
* more than a $1 billion taking of onetime monies, most of it from the tobacco settlement fund
* the imposition of approximately $400 million in additional user fees
* the shifting of more than $150 million worth of obligations onto local property taxpayers
* and the juggling of hundreds of millions more dollars through various accounting shifts and delayed payment arrangements.
The Robson piece also provided an apt historical reminder. As a tax warrior in the legislature, Pawlenty may have helped create a revenue shortfall that necessitated program cuts (the start of the recession also contributed), but he had no intention of dealing with the consequences.
Until Dick Cheney reached out to him and suggested he move aside for Norm Coleman, Pawlenty was ready to run for the Senate against Paul Wellstone. He'd planned to be in Washington when things hit the fan in Minnesota.
In the short term, he had to make a little lemonade out of those bushels of lemons he dropped on our doorstep. But who would you rather be today: George Bush, Norm Coleman or Tim Pawlenty?