Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Candidates on Deficits and Debt by the Numbers

Watching the debates, we talked most about the economic differences between policy proposals among the two candidates. (Mostly we got bored and discussed other things, since this was about as fun as watching two senators debate on the floor.)

Here are some numbers I Googled to determine the effects of each candidate's policies on the deficit. The numbers are depressingly murky and similar, despite budget balancing being a rather popular issue for the mainstream.

Tax Policies on the DebtIncreases national debt by $3.5 trillion / $2.9 trillion.Increases national debt by $5 trillion / $4.2 trillion.Brookings Institution Urban Institute Tax Policy Center / Tax Policy Institute
Tax cut policy effect on revenueIncrease revenue by $800 Billion over 10 yearsReduce federal revenues by $600 Billion / $700 Billion over next 5 years.Tax Policy Center / Congressional Budget Office
Earmarks policy on revenue"pay as you go policy," unknownSave $18 Billion per year.Obama during debate / NY Daily News, maybe citing Tax Policy Institute
Iraq PolicyWithdraw after 16 months, save $12 Billion per monthWin after an unspecified number of months, then save $12 Billion per monthSeattle Post Intelligencer
AfghanistanIncrease commitment, unknown cost or extentIncrease commitment, unknown cost or extent(admitted in debates)
Other PromisesPay as you go for new spendingEliminate deficit by 2013
Health Care$1.6 trillion over 10 years to insure 18 million new people in year one. ($90,000 per insured person per year).$1.3 billion (per year?) / $1.3 trillion (over ten years?) to insure 1 million new people. (I'm going with 130,000 per insured person per year, but that's with some assumptions to help the journalists along).NY Daily News / CNN Money
Energy$15 billion per year in subsidies to develop clean energy technologies, completely offset by a cap and trade system for polluters$2 billion per year to spur clean coal and domestic oil/natural gas production, also offset by a cap and trade systemNY Daily News
misc$18 billion for early childhood education$9 billion summer gas tax holiday
$10 billion to help homeowners stave off foreclosure$300 million prize for a better car battery
$6 billion per year to repair bridges and roads$300 million per year to retrain workers

I was going to try to have a summary column at the bottom, to see how it all balances out, but none of those numbers make any damn sense. Some are contradictory (It's not obvious how Obama's tax restructuring can increase revenues yet also be blamed for increasing the debt.) And others are just too vague or unreliable (McCain's health care program costs are different in two different sources by perhaps a factor of 100.)

I was hoping a quick Google would give a simple answer to all these questions, but no luck so far. Maybe everyone's plans are necessarily vague right now, because they don't know the specifics of their administration in terms of the Congress they'll be working with, or the economic situation on day one. It'd be a good time to remember that the President doesn't actually write our laws. Maybe that's why Ben Harris of the Tax Policy Center considers these fiscal projections to a guessing game.
(Wait a minute, the guy who runs the Think Tank everyone's citing just admitted he's just making all this up? Screw this, I give up.)

As a parting jab, please check out Steve Greenberg's cartoon on fiscal conservatism. Also, if you think you can get a handle on the budget, you might try to play Marketplace's Budget Hero.