According to reports, one of the first acts of the Republican-controlled Congress will be to fire Doug Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, because he won’t use “dynamic scoring” for his economic projections.
Dynamic scoring is the magical math Republicans have been pushing since they came up with supply-side “trickle-down” economics.
It’s based on the belief that cutting taxes unleashes economic growth and thereby produces additional government revenue. Supposedly the added revenue more than makes up for what’s lost when Congress hands out the tax cuts.
Dynamic scoring would make it easier to enact tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, because the tax cuts wouldn’t look as if they increased the budget deficit.
Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan calls it “reality-based scoring,” but it’s actually fantasy-based scoring — which is why Elmendorf, as well as all previous CBO directors, have rejected it.
Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as the asserted revenue effects of supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.
Ronald Reagan cut the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent and ended up nearly doubling the national debt. His first budget director, David Stockman, later confessed he dealt with embarrassing questions about future deficits with “magic asterisks” in the budgets submitted to Congress. The Congressional Budget Office didn’t buy them.
George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton but then slashed taxes, mostly on the rich. The CBO found that the Bush tax cuts reduced revenues by $3 trillion.
Yet Republicans don’t want to admit supply-side economics is hokum. As a result, they’ve never had much love for the truth-tellers at the Congressional Budget Office.
In 2011, when briefly leading the race for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich called the CBO “a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”
The CBO has continued to be a thorn in the Republicans’ side.
The budget plan Ryan came up with in 2012 — likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come from the Republican Congress — slashed Medicaid, cut taxes on the rich and on corporations, and replaced Medicare with a less well-funded voucher plan. Ryan claimed these measures would reduce the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office disagreed.
Ryan persevered. His 2013 and 2014 budget proposals were similarly filled with magic asterisks. The CBO still wasn’t impressed.
It’s one thing to cling to magical thinking when you have only one house of Congress. It’s another when you’re running the whole shebang.
Now that Elmendorf is on the way out, presumably to be replaced by someone willing to tell Ryan and other Republicans what they’d like to hear, the way has been cleared for all the magic they can muster.
In this as in other domains of public policy, Republicans have not shown a particular affinity for facts.
Climate change? It’s not happening, they say. Even if it’s happening, humans aren’t responsible. Even though almost all scientists studying the issue find that humans are the major cause, such findings are “controversial,” says the GOP, and should be given no greater weight than findings on the other side.
Widening inequality? Not occurring, they say. Even though the data show otherwise, they claim the measurements are wrong.
Voting fraud? Happening all over the country, they say, which is why voter IDs and other checks are necessary. Even though there’s no evidence to back up their claim (the best evidence shows no more than 31 credible incidents of fraud out of a billion ballots cast), they continue to assert it.
Evolution? Just a theory, they say. Even though all reputable scientists support it, many Republicans at the state level say it shouldn’t be taught without also presenting the view found in the Bible.
Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? America’s use of torture? The George W. Bush administration wasn’t overly interested in the facts.
The pattern seems to be: If you don’t like the facts, make them up. Or have your benefactors finance “think tanks” filled with hired guns who will tell the public what you and your patrons want them to say.
If all else fails, fire your own experts who tell the truth, and replace them with people who will tell falsehoods.
There’s one big problem with this strategy, though. Legislation based on lies often causes the public to be harmed.
Not even “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert once called it, is an adequate substitute for the whole truth.
Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.