Ezra Klein is obsessed with Mitt Romney’s proposed budget policies, or lack thereof. Klein convincingly argues that Romney’s plans are far vaguer than many previous presidential candidates and also very dishonest and mathematically impossible. The only problem with all of this analysis is that it assumes that presidential budget proposals actually matter, an assumption Sonic Charmer ridicules with his trademark snark:
One of the pre-election rituals that makes my eyes glaze over is when pundits break out their slide rules and green eyeshades and analyze the candidates’ budget/tax/spending plans….
Under the first guy, 10% of the top 20% will pay 30%, while the other guy wants 20% of the top 30% to pay 10%. Or something. And one of those set of numbers is bad while the other is good, or maybe they’re both bad. You made a bar chart about it. See the bar chart? Anyway, the upshot is you can’t vote for that one guy’s “plan” and also you can’t vote for the other guy’s “plan” either…
People, this is all so dumb. None of these “plans” mean diddly-squat. Presidents may propose budgets, but do not dictate and certainly do not have absolute control over the process of horse-trading, voting on and finalizing budgets for Congress – let alone revisions to the tax code (which are always part of these “plans”) and the like. I guarantee these candidates did not even write these “plans” that their campaigns release and promote as “their plans”. You really think Mitt Romney or President Obama sat down in front of a blank page in Microsoft Word, typed My Budget Plan in the Heading, and then cooked up 20? 50? 100? pages of details? These guys don’t even know what their “plans” are, that you’re taking as ironclad rock-solid descriptions of how money would flow amongst 300 million people, if they were elected…
Sure, these plans can give us abstract clues about the candidates, like “Mitt Romney doesn’t really seem to be any more serious about cutting the deficit than Barack Obama.” I suppose they give us a feel for the current direction of their party; I bet Bryan Caplan would agree it’s more about signalling. Maybe if a President is elected that implies something about how the American People approved of his plans and maybe that gives the plan more clout with Congress or something. But spending hours picking through the details of Presidential proposals as if they’re actually about to go into effect just seems like a big waste of time.
In fact, even actual plans that really are about to go into effect are hardly worth analyzing these days since they’re so full of “temporary” provisions that keep getting extended. How much more irrelevant are the proposals from a candidate for the executive branch!
I keep hoping that pundits will use the power of the Internet to look up the past irrelevance of proposed budgets and save themselves time and effort on the current ones. Remember Obama’s 2008 “Blueprint For Change“? Unlike Romney’s hopelessly vague disaster, the blueprint was a gloriously detailed 60 pages of policy goodness, and after Obama won the Presidency with huge Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, all of those pages came true, right?
“Obama is committed to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” Oops.
“Obama will ensure that federal contracts over $25,000 are competitively bid.” Oops.
“Obama will level the playing field for all businesses by eliminating special-interest loopholes and deductions, such as those for the oil and gas industry.” Oops.
“Obama will reform the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.” Oops.
It’s almost like Presidents aren’t monarchs with direct control over everything the government does! To be fair, Obama did accomplish many of the things he proposed in 2008, including the piece de resistance of universal health care (kinda). But I’m sure glad I didn’t spend hours analyzing what the future state of the nation would be like when Obama repealed the Bush tax cuts…
I know, I know. Birds gotta swim, policy wonks gotta wonk policy. I do it myself from time to time. But I still feel like, at the end of the year, it doesn’t actually matter very much.
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