Want a textbook example of Washington spin at its fiercest? Check out this press release from House Speaker John Boehner’s office this week, proclaiming: “Majority of economists say spending cuts needed to reduce deficit, not tax hikes.”
Punchy headline. Convenient harmony with Republicans’ anti-tax message. Also, not true.
In fact, the survey of economists in question suggests something quite different: A wide majority of respondents believe the federal government should reduce its budget deficit with a combination of spending cuts and, at least in small part, tax increases.
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Only 12 percent said the deficit should be reduced "only with spending cuts."
The results come from a semiannual poll of the members of the National Association of Business Economists, a group of working economists from companies and trade groups; the committee overseeing the survey includes economists for the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, and DuPont.
The survey, which was taken in late July and early August, asked respondents how Congress should attempt to reduce the budget deficit. A 44 percent plurality answered "mostly with spending cuts." Just over 37 percent said "equally with spending cuts and tax increases."
"Only with spending cuts" came in third, at 12 percent, followed by "mostly with tax increases" (nearly 6 percent) and "only with tax increases" (1 percent).
So, in total, nearly 88 percent of working business economists disagreed with the House GOP mantra that, as Boehner’s office put it in Monday’s press release, "spending cuts are the key to reducing the federal deficit – not job-crushing tax hikes."
NABE made that clear in its press release announcing the survey on Monday. It was headlined "NABE economists concerned about rising deficits, favor a 'balanced' approach that mixes spending cuts with revenue increases."
The press release from Boehner's office even quotes directly – and links to – an Associated Press story that reads: "The majority of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics believe that the federal deficit should be reduced only or primarily through spending cuts."
The key words in that sentence are "or primarily."
It’s interesting that Boehner’s office calls attention to the NABE survey, because aside from the tax increase question, it included several other instances where economists broke overwhelmingly against the major economic talking points of congressional Republican leaders.
Three-quarters of respondents bucked the GOP’s widespread insistence that any major revamp of the tax code should not result in more money flowing into the U.S. Treasury. Half of respondents said tax reform should slightly increase revenues. A quarter said it should significantly increase them. A quarter said reform should reduce revenues or hold them neutral.
Later, the survey asked: "Is the current regulatory environment good or bad for American businesses and the overall economy?" On this point, congressional Republicans are clear: Government regulation, they say, is hurting growth and hiring.
NABE economists were clear, too: More than 80 percent of respondents said today’s regulatory environment is good for the economy.
Asked about economic uncertainty, another issue Republicans also cite as holding the economy back, three-quarters of respondents agreed with the following statement: "While Americans remain anxious, 'economic uncertainty' is simply a proxy for other economic indicators. Once the economy starts to improve, such anxieties will go away. It is a concern, but not a major one."
None of those results made Boehner’s press release.