Posts Tagged ‘Deficit’

Why Can’t Right-Wingers Recognize Democratic Efforts to Tackle the Deficit?

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Ezra Klein defined epistemic closure as:

the conditions necessary for a political movement to fool itself into believing whatever’s convenient.

Which makes mine and Jonathan Bernstein‘s continued frustration at the blissful ignorance of the GOP towards Democratic deficit reduction measures quixotic:

Remember the mantra from Brad DeLong that I’m fond of quoting, but which I’ll paraphrase this time: in the short run, what matters is getting the economy moving.  In the middle term, PAYGO to keep things under control.  And in the long run, health care (see also this similar analysis from Ezra Klein).  Well…that sounds like the direction that the Democrats have followed for the last year, no?  Certainly, there are questions about whether they’ve doing the correct things. But it’s just wrong for deficit hawks to completely ignore an enacted plan to take a significant whack at the deficit in the second decade…

At some point though, reason must begin to seep through? Right?

Perhaps not. Opposition to the Democratic plans to reduce the deficit seem universal on the right.

The worst — either through deliberate or authentic ignorance — rail against the unprecedented deficits of Obama which are expanding government! And then easily conflate that with the out-of-control growth of entitlement spending (though they generally refuse to even acknowledge that the driving force behind the out-of-control spending growth is mandated entitlement spending, instead focusing on the ever-amorphous, “waste” — which is spending money on not-them). These people regard the cost-control measures in the health care bill — and the claims that it will reduce the deficit — as pure lies — or perhaps gimmicky accounting in which the plan taxes for 10 years and only provides benefits for 6. (In fact, the plan provides roughly the same amount of benefits as it raises in taxes/cuts each year it is in effect.)

Other more reasonable right wingers have adopted 1 of 2 alternative approaches:

(1) Acknowledging the health care plan reduces costs, but stating that these cost-cutting measures cannot happen and won’t. Given this argument, it’s hard to see why anyone should try to cut costs at all — and this leaves America apparently doomed to never reduce spending, even if it is mandated by law.

(2) Believing that Obama should be using his political capital to push for drastic cuts in spending and large tax increases to head this crisis off — and that by using some of the “low-hanging-fruit” that could easily generate revenue and reduce spending in a revenue-neutral way, Obama is making the solution harder. Donald Marron made this critique in his recent piece. However, this arguments seems mainly ignorant of political realities and doesn’t acknowledge the attempt to bend the cost-curve that health care reform represents.

The point is: Even the most reasonable commentators on the right do not acknowledge that the Democrats have a plan to tackle the deficit. For the most part, they pretend it doesn’t exist.

Why is this? Because challenging this orthodoxy gets you banished from right-wing circles and accepting the Democrats do have a plan means that Republicans need to come up with an alternative — which would undoubtedly be much less popular.

America in the Red

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Last week, I labeled this article a “Must-Read” — saying it provided “a coherent and reality-based conservative look at America’s structural deficit.”

As commentor John Rose points out, the piece has some glaring flaws. For one, there is only one mention either agricultural subsidies or the defense budget:

Every program should be on the table, including those as politically sensitive as agricultural subsidies, Social Security, and defense.

Throughout the rest of the piece, Marron focuses on total spending and specifically Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. No look at this topic can be complete without discussing the defense budget. But Marron makes the best contribution from the right to this national conversation dominated by Peter Orszag on the one side, the marginalized far left claiming any talk of the deficit is a cover to screw the working class for Obama’s corporate agenda on another, and the populist right not really participating as they seem to believe that this all can be fixed by cutting waste while leaving Social Security, Medicare, and the defense budget alone.

Of course, the most important thing to me personally, so that I can use it as a sledge against  is that Donald B. Marron — from a conservative (rather than populist right wing) perspective — confirms the essentials of the story I told in my series on “real fiscal responsibility” and each part. (Parts 1, 2, 3, and follow-up.)

Marron for example directly contradicts one of the avowed sources of hysteria on the right — Obama’s short term deficit — saying:

Running deficits can certainly be appropriate — and even beneficial — at times of particular stress, such as wars and recessions. But in the long run, persistent large deficits and growing debts undermine our nation’s prosperity.

Marron points out that the problems with Social Security can be fixed with some common-sense reasonable measures — but that Medicare and Medicaid — because of growing health care costs — are spiraling out of control:

While Social Security provides benefits in cash, Medicare and Medicaid pay for a service — the cost of which is not wholly within the government’s control and is also growing at an explosive rate. Despite some rhetoric about solving the problem once and for all, the reality is that no one really knows what to do to rein in federal health spending. There are lots of ideas — strengthening consumer incentives, changing provider incentives, investing in prevention, squeezing doctors and hospitals, or moving to a single-payer system — but no one can be sure how much any of these measures would actually “bend the cost curve” over the long run. Policymakers should therefore approach health spending as a research-and-development challenge, not as a one-time matter of setting specific policy dials. Experimentation, learning, and reform will be essential as we pursue policies to reduce the growth of health-care costs. Budget-setters can take some immediate steps to reduce the growth of health spending (e.g., by limiting Medicare payment rates), but this is a dilemma that will require ongoing attention.

The populist right lives in a world in which “Other Spending” is what is out of control.

Marron makes the best conservative case against the Obama administration’s relative fiscal responsibility that can be made:

Finally, our leaders should obey the first law of holes: When you are in one, stop digging. Unfortunately, the current climate in Washington encourages the exact opposite: Dig as fast as you can while there’s still time.

That impulse is evident in many recent policy initiatives. Lobbyists are already arguing that various temporary provisions in the 2009 stimulus bill should be made permanent. While the congressional committees with oversight of education spending have found a way to eliminate $80 billion from the federal student-loan program, they plan to use most of it to expand other spending, rather than to reduce the deficit. The committees in charge of energy and environmental policy are considering proposals that would create almost $1 trillion worth of carbon allowances over the next ten years — only to give away or spend 99% of that money. And then there is the Democrats’ health-care initiative, which would make a series of cuts to the budget only to use the savings to expand the federal government’s role in financing health care.

Marron gives no credit to the actual worth of the policies being pursued — cap-and-trade addressing the issue of global warming for example. Marron instead looks at each policy solely based on how it affects the budget.

And on health care, he is curiously silent. He makes it clear that this is the crux of the problem — but doesn’t evaluate or discuss the deficit reduction matters within the health care law recently passed — the many pilot projects meant to test different ways to bring down costs. You get the impression that he would oppose all non-stimulus spending the Obama administration has proposed — even if it reduced the deficit.

Ezra Klein though had a good rejoinder:

[T]he Center for Budget and Policy Priority’s Bob Greenstein made a nice point on this: The choice, he said, isn’t between solving the problem before the crisis hits and waiting for a crisis. Solving the problem requires doing more than the political system is able to do outside a crisis atmosphere. But making a start on the problem isn’t. And if you can make enough of a start, you can delay the crisis and/or mitigate its eventual severity. The problem is that people tend to dismiss doing a bit because it means we won’t do enough. But if we attempt to do too much, Greenstein said, we run a large risk of doing nothing at all, and that will be much worse.

But by providing a reality-based description of the structural deficit from a conservative perspective, Marron has made an important contribution to our political conversation and where it needs to go.

Must-Reads of the Week: China’s distortionary exchange rate policy, Mario Savio, David Brooks, Ezra Klein, & Dana Priest’s The Mission

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Apologies for the very, very light posting. There are quite a number of personal issues I’ve been dealing with – aside from the uprooted tree in my yard and miscellaneous damage.

But let me still give you some must-reads for the week.

1. China’s distortionary exchange rate policy. On Sunday, Keith Bradsher in the New York Times gave a good primer on how China is using currency manipulation and the global trade organizations to gain economic advantages as part of a global strategy to increase China’s power. China has also been using the global financial crisis to further their economic aims:

China is starting to describe its currency interventions as stimulus. But unlike extra government spending in the United States and other countries, currency intervention does not expand global demand, but shifts it from other countries to China.

Paul Krugman followed this up with a column urging action regarding China:

Today, China is adding more than $30 billion a month to its $2.4 trillion hoard of reserves. The International Monetary Fund expects China to have a 2010 current surplus of more than $450 billion — 10 times the 2003 figure. This is the most distortionary exchange rate policy any major nation has ever followed.

And it’s a policy that seriously damages the rest of the world. Most of the world’s large economies are stuck in a liquidity trap — deeply depressed, but unable to generate a recovery by cutting interest rates because the relevant rates are already near zero. China, by engineering an unwarranted trade surplus, is in effect imposing an anti-stimulus on these economies, which they can’t offset. [My emphases.]

My first attempt to make sense of this issue here.

2. Mario Savio. Scott Saul of The Nation follows up with an excellent profile of Mario Savio who at one point seemed poised to lead the 1960s radical New Left, but who then dropped out of public view:

Savio was a revolutionary and civil libertarian, logician and poet, scientific observer and self-aware partisan–and in his heyday a virtuosic extemporizer who seemed not so much to perform all these identities as to incarnate them. He was, in short, an icon of possibility for his generation of student activists; and so it’s a great historical riddle, tinged with pathos, why he was, in Berkeley in 1964, the lightning rod of his time and, almost immediately afterward, a man who couldn’t conduct the energy he’d summoned.

3. David Brooks on Obama. David Brooks wrote an excellent column last Friday arguing that both the right and left have Obama wrong, as they accuse excessive fealty to an extreme left wing ideology and of being a weak, passive, unprincipled traitor respectively. Brooks describes Obama as I have always understood and described him – and in fact, as he has described himself:

Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book ”The Audacity of Hope” to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs.

4. Ezra Klein. Ezra Klein best summarized the CBO score released yesterday and how it gave the Democrats exactly what they needed:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill cuts deficits by $130 billion in the first 10 years, and up to $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. The excise tax is now indexed to inflation, rather than inflation plus one percentage point, and the subsidies grow more slowly over time. So one of the strongest cost controls just got stronger, and the automatic spending growth slowed. And then there are all the other cost controls in the bill: The Medicare Commission, which makes entitlement reform much more possible. The programs to begin paying doctors and hospitals for care rather than volume. The competitive insurance market.

This was a hard bill to write. Pairing the largest coverage increase since the Great Society with the most aggressive cost-control effort isn’t easy. And since the cost controls are complicated, while the coverage increase is straightforward, many people don’t believe that the Democrats have done it. But to a degree unmatched in recent legislative history, they have.

Klein then succinctly explained what was missing from the Republican approach to the deficit that this health care bill – to its great credit – attempted to address:

Our long-term deficit is not a function of our current spending, which is manageable. It is a function of our expected spending growth, particularly in health care. With the system growing at 8 percent a year and GDP growing at 2 percent or 3 percent a year, there’s a real long-term problem there. But you can’t cut, or even tax, your way out of it. If you cut 5 percent from the system in one year, that cut disappears by the next year.

5. The Mission. I’m currently reading this 2003 book by Dana Priest who writes for the Washington Post on the military’s mission and how it evolved after the Cold War through the 1990s and into the War on Terror. Absolutely excellent. I highly recommend it.

[Image by me, this morning.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Ezra Klein, Sleeper Issue of 2010, Success, Virtual Insanity, Abdulmutallab, Obstruction, and Madden

Friday, February 5th, 2010

1. Ezra Klein on Rep. Paul Ryan, Health Care, and the Deficit. If you want a serious, policy-oriented daily take on health care and fiscal issues, turn to Ezra Klein. This week, he began the opinionosphere’s discussion of Rep. Paul Ryan’s serious attempt to balance the budget (which has no chance of being embraced even by the Republicans or Democrats.) Later, he interviewed Rep. Ryan – though it read more like a discussion between two serious people about fiscal policy and health care reform. Klein later attempted to see where along the political spectrum the Senate health care reform bill fell:

Take Rep. Paul Ryan’s health-care plan…as the conservative pole on this issue. Then take single-payer and place it on the other side of the spectrum. Where does the Senate bill fall?

It’s closer to Ryan’s plan than to single-payer. A lot closer, in fact.

Yet this basic fact – that Obama has taken a rather conservative approach to health care substantively similar to the 1994 plan Republicans counter-proposed to Bill Clinton – has been obscured by a Republican Party intent on obstructing Obama’s agenda to gain partisan advantage. As Klein explains, the problem is that the incentives for each party don’t line up:

[T]hat’s the underlying reality of health-care reform. Substantive compromise is easy. In fact, the bill is a substantive compromise. It’s a deficit-neutral, universal-coverage scheme that relies on the private insurance market and looks like one of the Republican alternatives from 1994. What’s hard is political compromise. Because there, the two positions are that Democrats are helped if a bill passes and Republicans make gains if a bill fails. There’s no way to split the difference between those positions.

At the same time, however, Klein castigates Democrats as well as Republicans for failing to put the national good over their own political situations:

The distinguishing feature of the budget conversation, however, is that it happens at a very abstract level. This red line needs to come down to meet this black line, and this huge number needs to eventually become this slightly-smaller number. That’s all fine for a floor speech, but when you start trying to muscle the red line into position or subtract from the very big number, things get real specific, real quick. Suddenly, you’re telling seniors that there are treatments they just can’t get and you’re telling workers that the insurance system is going to have to change. And just as Conrad doesn’t have much appetite for doing that to his constituents on the small things that most of them don’t notice, very few legislators have demonstrated much appetite for doing this to the country on the big things that pretty much everyone notices.

2. I do not accept second place for the United States of America. Edward Alden and E. J. Dionne comment on what is brewing to become the big issue of the 2010 elections, not coincidentally countering the main narrative put forth by the right wing.

3. A successful first year. Norm Ornstein and John P. Judis explain some of the significant accomplishments of Obama’s first year in office.

4. Virtual insanity. Andrew Sullivan’s main theme this week has been the virtual insanity of the Republican Party. He writes: “On every single major issue of the day, they are incoherent.” He quotes Daniel Larison:

Republicans have been treating temporary, tactical political victories as if they were far more significant, strategic victories, when, in fact, they have no political strategy worth mentioning.

Then of course are the highlights from that Daily Kos poll in which – for example – 59% of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached for something-or-other.

5. Reid v. Abdulmutallab. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly gets some hard hits in on the ridiculousness of the Republican response to Obama’s handling of the panty-bomber. And Benen doesn’t even get into the fact that Abdulmutallab is now cooperating.

6. Obstruction. I examined some of the theories of why the Republicans are so uniformly obstructionist.

7. Madden vs. Real Life. As a football-related article for this Super Bowl weekend, Chris Suellentrop for Wired explored how the video game Madden is affecting the real game of football.

[Image by Doug Kim, used with permission of the creator, and in anticipation of the snowstorm that might rock Manhattan today as I’m commuting home.]

Understanding President Obama and the budget deficit

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Jonathan Chait over at his blog on The New Republic:

Pretty much everything you need to know about President Obama and the budget deficit is contained within this chart:

Health Care Reform is the most significant effort at cost control in a generation, if not ever.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Once health care reform passes, the White House has signaled it will begin to focus more specifically on the deficit. (Also, on jobs, cap and trade, and financial regulation.)

But as the Obama administration presented it initially: Health care reform is deficit reduction. (Ezra Klein, health care policy wonk, blogger, and columnist for the Washington Post, has been making this case all along, as have many other technocratic types and policy wonks and health care experts.) That’s why Peter Orszag made the phrase, “bend the curve” into a buzzword, referring to the attempt to bring down the rate of growth of health care spending. Here for example is a graph of our projected budget deficit as a percentage of GDP based on current growth rates, lowering those growth rates, and adopting measures to have Britain-like growth rates:

While any bill that might get past Congress at this point won’t live up to the early wet dreams of policy wonks (It won’t even bring us to the level of the blue line in the above graph), it would – to quote Ezra – still “represent the most significant effort at cost control in a generation, if not ever.” (my emphasis.) (He specifically refers to three provisions in the Senate Finance Committee bill: the excise tax on high-cost insurance plans; the newly empowered Medicare Commission; and various delivery-system reforms.) In fact – again according to Ezra – the “health-care reform bills currently under consideration in both the Senate and the House actually cut money from the deficit.” Despite this, the same Republicans (often the exact same individuals) who 6 years ago cast “a vote to add about $400 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years, and trillions more in the decades after that,” with Medicare Part D are now criticizing the current bill which would decrease the deficit as “fiscally irresponsible.”  Ezra:

It’s like watching arsonists calling the fire department reckless.

This constant obstructionism by the Republicans – on both matters of fiscal stimulus and health care – is gradually eating away at the public will to act and is therefore undermining confidence in America’s economy and long-term fiscal situation, and by undermining this confidence, making a disaster more likely. Noam Scheiber of The New Republic describes how the struggle to enact meaningful health care reform is a concern for the largest holders of American debt, the Chinese:

To his surprise, when Orszag arrived at the site of the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), the Chinese didn’t dwell on the Wall Street meltdown or the global recession. The bureaucrats at his table mostly wanted to know about health care reform, which Orszag has helped shepherd…”At some point, if you refuse to contain health care costs, you’ll go bankrupt,” says Andy Xie, a prominent Shanghai-based economist, formerly of Morgan Stanley.

The efforts at cost control proposed by the Democrats might fail, as Republicans suggest. But it is irresponsible not to try, and to obstruct any attempts to try. Republicans have begun to demagogue the bills before Congress both for cutting Medicare and for increasing the amount of health care spending. They are not willing to give the Democrats any political cover to take any fiscally responsible measures. This partisan refusal to work towards solving long-term problems has been the key to Republican successes from 1994 to the present. (Not so for the Democrats, many of whom joined George W. Bush in passing his No Child Left Behind act, his tax cuts, and his Medicare Part D bill, but undoubtedly, both sides bear some blame.) This has created a political culture in which Washington has two directives:  “spend money on things I like and don’t raise my taxes.” This isn’t solely a Republican problem. It is more that the Republicans, by remaining stubbornly united, have made these flaws evident. Klein again:

The issue isn’t that some storm will unexpectedly slam into the economy and there will be nothing anybody can do, but that the storm will hit and Congress will choose to do nothing

The biggest danger America faces is not rising health-care costs or global warming or the budget deficit. It’s the political system’s inability to act on these issues, even though the solutions are generally quite clear.

Take a moment and read the articles linked to – especially the three Ezra Klein posts from the past two days. (On the Senate Finance Bill’s cost control measures; On Medicare Part D; and On Our Political System’s Inability to Act.)

Keep in mind that Obama’s proposals are not “radical leftist” but essential and moderate tinkering that incorporates Republican as well as Democratic ideas. The Tea Party-ers may be outraged at the imaginary specters of death panels and government-mandated abortion. But it is the rest of us who should be outraged at the inability of our political system or our politics to address these long-term issues responsibly.

Obama’s Grand Bargain (as a necessary response to the deficit problem)

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

David Leonhardt has a typically excellent piece in the Times with a helpful graph explaining the deficit problem. Leonhardt tells the story of how the $800 billion surpluses left by Bill Clinton have turned into $1.2 trillion deficits – or what he calls the “$2 trillion swing.” He identifies four categories of spending accounting for the swing in descending order of significance:

the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

Leonhardt identifies only 10% of the current deficit as resulting from either Obama’s stimulus package or new spending (which is only 3%). 20% of the deficit is traced to Bush policies set to expire that Obama is continuing – for example, a large portion of Bush’s tax cuts and the Iraq war. 33% comes from legislation signed by Bush – like the Medicare prescription act. And Leonhardt attributes 37% of these enormous deficits – the single largest factor – to the combination of increased counter-cyclical spending (on food stamps, unemployment, etc.) and a decrease in government revenues resulting from the downturn.

This math is a large part of what made those Tea Parties – as well as so much of the Republican opposition – ridiculous. First, these Tea Parties – and most of the opposition – was silent while George W. Bush pushed through legislation account for 53% of the current deficit – but suddenly was up in arms once a Democrat proposed 10% in spending to stimulate the economy and fix some significant problems. At the same time, many of those conservatives who were strong opponents of Bush continue to propose more tax cuts. In fact, during the debate over the stimulus bill, Republicans denounced the deficits being caused by government spending while proposing a tax cut bill that would create even large deficits.

What Leonhardt describes is a nation that has been subjected to the conservative “starve the beast” strategy of cutting taxes and increasing spending. This deliberate policy has brought us to the brink of disaster – as George Will describes:

For years, many conservatives advocated a “starve the beast” approach to limiting government. They supported any tax cut, of any size, at any time, for any purpose, assuming that, deprived of revenue, government spending would stop growing. But spending continued, and government borrowing encouraged government’s growth by making big government cheap: People were given $1 worth of government but were charged less than that, the balance being shifted, through debt, to future generations. In 2003, Republicans fattened the beast with the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Cooper opposed it), which added almost $8 trillion in the present value of benefits scheduled, but unfunded, over the next 75 years.

Liberalism’s signature achievement — the welfare state’s entitlement buffet — will, unless radically reduced, starve government of resources needed for everything on liberalism’s agenda for people not elderly. Conservatives want government limited, but not this way.

Leonhardt quotes Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley,

Bush behaved incredibly irresponsibly for eight years. On the one hand, it might seem unfair for people to blame Obama for not fixing it. On the other hand, he’s not fixing it.

And not fixing it is, in a sense, making it worse.

I think Andrew Sullivan has the right tack on this:

I don’t blame Obama for failing to turn all this around in five months, and for running a debt this big right now. I willblame him if he does nothing serious to tackle this in the next year.

Leonhardt has been a reporter with good access to the White House in these early days of the presidency. Which suggests that this article is not coming out of the blue for this administration. In fact, shortly before taking office, Obama talked about the “Grand Bargain” he would need to negotiate to deal with precisely this issue. It seems to me that this piece begins to set the stage for what Obama is looking to do after cap-and-trade and health care are passed – to tackle the issues of tax reform and entitlement reform.

All this makes his continued and extraordinary attempts to woo members of the House and Senate – and his efforts to give them a role in determining policy (as described in Matt Bai’s new article) – essential. As Bai describes:

“One of the mistakes of the past is that when presidents arrive on Capitol Hill with legislation chiseled into stone, it’s not well received,” says David Axelrod, one of Obama’s most influential advisers. “You have to give people a sense of ownership.”

Obama seems to have decided early on that his model for pursuing legislation would be something closer to Ronald Reagan, a president whose political savvy he has often expressed admiration for. Partly by necessity, because he had to work with a Democratic Congress, Reagan was known for providing broad policy frameworks while delegating the details to lawmakers. In this way, he managed to fundamentally reform the tax code and shore up Social Security during his first year in office — achievements for which he gladly took credit, even if Congress didn’t give him precisely what he wanted. To this end, Obama’s chief health care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, has been all over Capitol Hill, consulting with various members and soliciting their advice, but the administration has been careful not to weigh in with too much authority or to make any public pronouncements on the negotiations.

Obama may have been able to push through health care and cap-and-trade with his Democratic majorities and personal popularity. But he needs the Congress and Senate to work with him on tax reform and entitlement reform once the financial crisis has been dealt with. Or perhaps sooner – as the bond market pressures the administration to set a clear path which involves a return to fiscal sanity.

To do this, Obama needs the trust and support of a large majority of Congressmen and Senators. And he needs to mobilize public and elite opinion to support a significant change in our tax and spending policies. This article by David Leonhardt strikes me as an attempt to set the stage for this soon-to-be debate.

[Picture by Peter Souza courtesy of the White House.]

The Partisan Eruption During Obama’s State of the Union

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I thought this was the most interesting moment in yesterday’s speech – as the partisan feelings of the Republicans erupted, and then were responded to by the Democrats.

Throughout the speech, Obama seemed to want to talk through partisan lines, trying to minimize the applause. But here the Republicans took the first half of an Obama antimonic device and interrupted his speech – their only real excitement of the night. They seemed to relish in the fact that Obama was “admitting” that the deficit was a worthy issue, jeering. Of course, Obama has planned to pivot to the deficit and entitlement spending all along – speaking of a forthcoming Grand Bargain even before he took office. In the end, this demonstration made the Republicans look rather petty. But then, as Obama completed his antimonic device, stating that the enormous deficit was “inherited,” the Democrats took advantage of their opportunity to pettily respond to the Republican jeering.

This exchange captures the dynamic of Obama’s Washington so far – as Republicans and Democrats jeer each other and posture against one another while Obama tries to explain what he’s doing and to get a serious response.