Debt: Democrats whose spending has pushed the economy out onto a ledge reportedly are thinking about easing up a bit. But who are they trying to kid? They're quite comfortable on that ledge, as our poll data show.
Leave it to the New York Times, that Democratic house organ, and water-carriers such as E.J. Dionne Jr. in his column on the next page, to sound the alarm. The same "whip-deficits-now fever" that is "running hot" in Europe after Greece's economic meltdown is spreading to the U.S., the Times observed last week.
But the "economic crisis isn't over," it said, and "slashing budgets is the wrong thing to do" in "robust" economies such as ours that have "space to spend."
"Space to spend"? The Times apparently didn't see the latest report from the Treasury Department. (At least that's our assumption, since the paper didn't see fit to cover it.) The report to Congress warned that U.S. debt will top $13.6 trillion this year and climb to an estimated $19.6 trillion by 2015 (see accompanying chart).
At that point, Treasury reckons, the ratio of debt to gross domestic product would be 102% compared with 93% this year.
Now, that's still not in the same league as Greece, whose debt-to-GDP ratio is 110%, and our economy admittedly is many times more "robust." But at the rate we're going, we'll catch up fast. As Rep. Mike Pence recently noted on these pages, our federal deficit rocketed tenfold just since 2007.
And we're already ahead of other PIIGS, as we condescendingly call European basket cases Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Portugal's debt ratio, for example, is "only" 80%.
Both the Times and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers are careful to say that "fiscal profligacy," as Dionne puts it, is indeed a worry long-term. It's just that fiscal discipline isn't needed just yet. Stimulus is still the order of the day — never mind that the last $878 billion jolt did next to nothing for the economy.
Everyday Americans, however, may not be so nuanced in their thinking. A Gallup Poll taken three weeks ago found that "federal government debt" ranks right up there with "terrorism" as the top threat facing the nation. And for independents, who'll have a lot to say about all this in November, debt ranks No. 1.
We're not even sure Democrats are that serious about reining in spending in the long run. In the latest IBD/TIPP Poll, 50% of Democrats give President Obama a grade of A or B on managing the federal budget — a budget, mind you, that's projected to be $1.3 trillion in the hole this year, second only to last year's record $1.4 trillion. Only 15% give him a D or F.
Contrast that with 45% of respondents overall who gave him a D or F and 27% who graded him A or B. For independents, it was 47% D or F and 23% A or B, and for Republicans it was 81% D or F v s. 4% A or B.
The only other groups that gave the president good grades on managing the budget were blacks, Hispanics and 18-to-24-year-olds.
So excuse us for doubting that many Democrats either in the White House or Congress have really come down with that "whip-deficits-now fever."