The Deficit, Taxes, and Investing in Our Future

Conservatives didn’t seem so concerned when former President Bush ran up the deficit by cutting taxes for the rich and pursuing a very expensive war in Iraq. But now that Barack Obama is in office and pursuing worthy goals like jump-starting our economy and investing in our future, conservatives are suddenly hysterical about the effect of new government expenditures on the deficit.

This newfound zeal for fiscal responsibility seems highly suspect. It also seems to be having little effect on the public, which remains strongly supportive of the Obama administration’s priorities. Consider these data from an early April Pew poll. When the public was asked whether they would put a higher priority on reducing the deficit or spending more to make health care more accessible and affordable, they prioritized health care over the deficit by 59 percent to 35 percent. A similar question about reducing the deficit or spending more to improve the educational system produced a 58-38 split in favor of prioritizing education over reducing the deficit.

chart 1

And just to give the conservatives a special case of the willies, consider this result from an early April CBS/New York Times poll. The Obama administration has proposed increasing federal income taxes for households making more the $250,000 a year, with that money used to improve access to health care and provide tax cuts for less affluent households. The public’s verdict: they deemed this a good idea by an overwhelming 74-23 margin.

chart 2

It seems like conservative efforts to combine deficit hysteria with a continued faith in tax cuts for the rich are completely out of step with the current public mood. Of course, that’s never stopped them before from pursuing bankrupt policies, and it probably won’t now.