Washington Post business section columnist Steven Pearlstein offered his space today to a lavish tribute to the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on its 25th anniversary, the kind of rave review that a think tank’s fundraisers can use for oh, a decade or so to solicit large contributions. The headline was “Powerhouse for the Poor.”
For the past 25 years — starting with the Reagan budget cuts of the 1980s, through the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1990s and continuing through the Bush tax cuts and entitlement reforms — Greenstein & Co. have been there for every hearing, every amendment and every budget reconciliation, ensuring that the interests of the poor and working class are considered.
Their weapons in these battles are reliable data, sound analysis and an ability to deliver it when needed. They know when and how to cut and deal. And thanks largely to the center’s work, programs like food stamps, nutrition for mothers and children, and the earned income tax credit have grown despite decades of cuts in domestic programs…
No doubt one thing that attracts the foundations is that the center mixes social advocacy with fiscal responsibility. It’s easy, of course, to be a liberal against big deficits when Ronald Reagan or George Bush is running up big deficits by cutting taxes for the well-to-do. But Greenstein is a pay-as-you-go man for all political seasons.
In between the applause for Robert Greenstein’s “sheer brilliance,” the “national conscience” talk from liberals (Wendell Primus), and the requisite admission of dogged competence from conservatives (Ron Haskins), there is still the question the accuracy of the Post’s traditional argot on budget issues. For example, the Reagan and Bush tax cuts applied to nearly everyone, not just the “well-to-do.” Liberals have this bad habit of suggesting that because they benefit most, the rich are the only people to have their taxes cut by Republicans.
But that’s not as ludicrous as the “decades of cuts in domestic programs.” This is really unconvincing budgetary shorthand. How much has Medicare or Medicaid been cut in the past decades? Wouldn’t “skyrocketed” be a more accurate adjective? I almost hesitate to wonder what the Bush “entitlement reforms” are, but I suspect that’s Post lingo for adding an expensive prescription-drug subsidy to Medicare. It’s amazing that after all the Democrat-majority overspending of the 1980s and the Republican-majority overspending of the 2000s, some journalists are still using phrases like “decades of cuts in domestic programs.”
It almost goes without saying that Pearlstein, in revisiting the last 25 years, also makes the classic liberal error of equating social welfare spending as automatically beneficial to the poor, as opposed to often harmful in its long-term sociological consequences. Is he sad Bob Greenstein lost on welfare reform? It’s fascinating that Pearlstein hails Greenstein’s “sound analysis” at the same time he recalls how Greenstein argued that welfare reform ”would throw a million Americans into poverty.”