Tea Party Has It Backwards On Falling Federal Deficits

Basic math continues to pose an insurmountable challenge for the Tea Party faithful.

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The past week of misery and defeat for the Tea Party did offer one ray of sunshine for the GOP's hardest of the hardliners. They rejoiced at the findings of an analysis by Yale professor Dan Kahan which revealed that Tea Baggers "appear to be slightly, but solidly more scientifically literate than non-tea party members."

Unfortunately, basic math continues to pose an insurmountable challenge for the Tea Party faithful. As a recent Bloomberg survey confirmed, the entire Tea Party is completely united in their mistaken belief that the rapidly shrinking federal budget deficit is instead growing larger.

On Friday, Al Hunt summed up the deficit delusion gripping the Republican Party in general and its Ted Cruz wing in particular:

Two-thirds of regular Republicans believe the federal budget deficit has grown this year and 93 percent of Tea Party Republicans agree. Both are wrong; the budget deficit is projected to fall this year from $1.1 trillion to $642 billion.

Yup. In the real America, spending has been flat and annual budget deficits have plummeted since Barack Obama first took the oath of office on January 20, 2009. (The deficit, that is, the yearly difference between what government spends and what it raises in tax revenue, is not to be confused with the national debt, which is the running total of federal deficits and surpluses over the entire history of the Republic.) Just two weeks before in its last forecast of the Bush presidency, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Uncle Sam would spend about $3.54 trillion and run up a deficit of roughly $1.19 trillion for fiscal year 2009 which began the previous October 1. The actual deficit was $1.4 trillion thanks to lower than expected tax revenue. This past May, CBO predicted the shortfall for FY 2013 (which ended September 30) would shrink to $642 billon on spending of $3.46 trillion. Whether measured in dollars or as a percentage of the U.S. economy, the CBO rightly concluded that "the federal budget deficit has shrunk noticeably in fiscal year 2013, and it is projected to continue to decline for the next few years." That picture of deficits by fiscal year is reflected in the chart above.

Of course, this isn't the first time the Tea Party has gotten their math exactly backwards.

On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections, the New York Times asked, "What if a president cut Americans' income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?" That was a very good question because "in a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans." That finding echoed an earlier CBS News poll which showed that the American people in general and the Tea Party in particular believed the fiscal equivalent of the sun orbiting the earth:

Of people who support the grassroots, "Tea Party" movement, only 2 percent think taxes have been decreased, 46 percent say taxes are the same, and a whopping 44 percent say they believe taxes have gone up.

As you will recall, just weeks after Obama's 2009 inauguration, thousands of the GOP's furious faithful turned out for Tax Day Tea Party rallies, events funded by conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom works and promoted by Fox News, displaying signs proclaiming "Taxed Enough Already" and "No Taxation without Representation." That was more than a little ironic. After all, President Obama and the newly elected Democratic majorities in the House and Senate had just delivered tax relief for 95 percent of working households with the largest two-year tax cut in American history as part of the $787 billion stimulus program. And by 2010, federal tax revenue as a percentage of the U.S. economy had plummeted to the lowest level since 1950. So much for the need to water the Tree of Liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

It's no wonder that former Reagan Treasury official Bruce Bartlett aptly concluded, ""For an antitax group," Bartlett aptly concluded, "they don't know much about taxes."

They don't know much about taxes or pretty much anything else. Long after the three-corner hats, Don't Tread on Me flags and Obama-as-Hitler posters are gone, history will remember the Tea Partiers for having been wrong on virtually everything. As a quick review shows, almost every sound bite was "not intended to be a factual statement." Barack Obama isn't a Muslim and wasn't born in Kenya (or any place other than Hawaii). The Bush recession which began in December 2007 did not become the "Obama Bear Market" months before the Democrat even won the election, let alone take the oath of office. Tax cuts don't "pay for themselves" and the 2009 stimulus did not fail to "create a single job" or "make the economy worse." There were (and are) no "death panels. That 2009 Politifact Lie of the Year was succeeded in 2010 by another Affordable Care Act myth, "a government takeover of health care." And the dreaded Obamacare won't increase the national debt but instead is forecast to reduce it.

But despite the crushing defeat on the government shutdown this week and their years-long reign of error, the Tea Party is celebrating Professor Kahan's surprising survey. As a jubilant Glenn Beck put it, "Yale researcher learns that the Tea Party is a lot smarter than he thought."

Smarter than rocks, perhaps, but dumber than trees.

(For more background on the federal budget deficit and the U.S. national debt, see "5 Charts Show the U.S. Has No Debt Crisis" and "Deficits are Rapidly Shrinking, Spending is Flat under Obama.")

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