While digging around on the Web, I came across a couple of blog posts concerning Claire McCaskill. In response to a letter concerning the miscues of Democrats in Congress, McCaskill sent the blogger this response boasting about her wise stewardship of tax dollars – and addressing none of the concerns about which the blogger had contacted McCaskill. This inappropriate, one-note response struck me as a perfect representation of McCaskill’s one-note public persona – the fiscally responsible legislator who, like a thrifty aunt, understands the value of a dollar just as well as any of the good folks back home.
The problem comes when McCaskill confuses the discipline of economics with the ledger book – or, in McCaskill’s case, perhaps, assumes that her constituents lack the vision to see beyond the ledger book. For example, McCaskill has been in the forefront of those so-called moderate Democrats who ballyhoo a simplistic approach to debt and deficit reduction that is designed to play well at home, but is not likely to address any of our real economic problems.
Most recently McCaskill has once again joined Republican Jeff Sessions (Alabama) in introducing an amendment that would freeze spending for three years. As Pat Garofalo of The Wonk Room notes:
…the notion that a blanket freeze is a good way to reduce deficits is severely misguided. For one thing, it locks in funding without any debate as to whether current levels are appropriate, and it will limit the ability of the Congress to respond to changing demands … . As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pointed out, this makes it hard “to do much of anything for the middle class that’s important” going forward.
A freeze removes any sense of prioritization from the budget (building effective programs while eliminating ineffective or duplicative ones), and simply whacks away a chunk of funding across the board. As CAP Senior Fellow Scott Lilly has pointed out, programs that are under the radar, but vital to the nation’s functioning, will likely end up on the short end of a freeze.
It seems as if McCaskill’s ersatz fiscally responsible bad angel is once more leading her astray. Certainly her auditor persona has its good moments – her work on government contracting, which President Obama referenced last Wedensday, comes to mind, as well as her principled stand on earmarks – but she should certainly give the deficit bashing a rest. There are, after all, plenty of Republicans with nothing more constructive to do than to bang on that particular empty drum.
Update: If you are interested in what a nuanced, as opposed to simplistic take on deficits, spending and role of government, actually looks like, take a look at this set of graphs and accompanying commentary.
Image created by Viktor Voight from the Wikimedia Commons.