IA-Gov: New Branstad ad airbrushes his record

Former four-term Governor Terry Branstad, the likely Republican nominee against Governor Chet Culver, launched his campaign's third television ad today, about a month after his first commercials started running statewide in Iowa. The latest ad depicts Branstad as "the real conservative change we needed then... and now."

Here's the ad script:

The farm crisis ... Budget deficits... Skyrocketing unemployment...

That’s what Terry Branstad faced when he was elected governor.

But this Winnebago County farm kid put his rural values right to work, recruiting thousands of jobs, cutting out half the state agencies and taxes $124 million – leaving us record employment, and a $900 million surplus.

Terry Branstad is the real conservative change we needed then... and NOW.

Time for a reality check.

Branstad was first elected governor in 1982, near the bottom of an economic cycle (at that time the most severe recession since World War II) and was fortunate to retire near the peak of the Clinton boom years. However, job gains during Branstad's tenure as governor did not fulfill promises he made during his campaigns.

Iowa reorganized state government in 1985, eliminating some agencies and merging others into larger departments. On the other hand, total state government employment increased from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999. Total receipts in the state's general fund increased from $1.899 billion in 1983 to $4.881 billion in 1999. That 166 percent increase was more than the rate of inflation during the same period, and Iowa's population was no larger when Branstad retired than it was when he was first elected.

The huge growth in the general fund budget would not have been possible without various tax increases Branstad signed into law. Increased revenue from two sales tax hikes dwarfed the $124 million in tax cuts highlighted in Branstad's new commercial. Those cuts came primarily from reducing income and estate taxes, delivering most of the benefits to wealthier Iowa families. Unfortunately, Branstad's sales tax increases disproportionately hit lower-income families, who spend a greater share of their money on essentials.

Branstad was far from reluctant to raise taxes. He asked the state legislature to increase the sales tax in his very first budget address, within days of being inaugurated in 1983.

I expect Branstad to win the Republican primary on June 8 despite his accountability problem. Bob Vander Plaats is a strong speaker but doesn't have the financial resources to publicize his case against the former governor. Rod Roberts isn't trying to make a case against Branstad, as far as I can tell. His function in the campaign seems to be to prevent Vander Plaats from consolidating the conservative vote in the primary.

However, during the general election campaign, Branstad will face an opponent with the resources to compare his record with his rhetoric. I wonder how many conservative Republicans will either stay home in November or check the Libertarian box in the governor's race.

The stimulus was the biggest middle-class tax cut in history

I was disappointed by some compromises made to pass the stimulus (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) in February 2009. I felt President Obama made too many concessions in the fruitless pursuit of Republican votes, and that too much of the cost went toward tax cuts that would be slower-acting and less stimulative than certain forms of government spending.

That said, the tax cuts in the stimulus will help tens of millions of American families, particularly those with working-class or middle-class incomes. Citizens for Tax Justice has calculated that "the major tax cuts enacted in the 2009 economic stimulus bill actually reduced federal income taxes for tax year 2009 for 98 percent of all working families and individuals." In terms of the number of Americans who benefited, the stimulus bill was the biggest tax cut in history.

In addition, "the estimated $282 billion in tax cuts [from the stimulus] over two years is more than either of the 2001-2002 or the 2004-2005 Bush tax cuts or the Kennedy or Reagan tax cuts." George W. Bush's tax cuts were more costly to the U.S. Treasury over a 10-year period, but as Anonymous Liberal noted last year,

The Bush tax cuts were skewed dramatically toward the wealthy. In 2004, 60% of the tax cuts went to the top 20 percent of income earners with over 25% going to the top 1% of income earners. Those numbers have increased since then as the cuts to the estate tax have taken effect.

Tomorrow is the deadline for most Americans to file their tax returns, and Republicans will try to harness the tea party movement's anger at what they view as excessive taxes and spending. However, many ordinary people may be shocked to learn how large their refunds are this year. According to the White House, "the average tax refund is up nearly 10 percent this year."

Democrats should not be afraid to vigorously defend the stimulus bill during this year's Congressional campaigns. I wish the recovery act had been larger and better targeted, but the bottom line is that Republicans voted against the largest ever middle-class tax cut.

The White House website has this Recovery Act Tax Savings Tool to help people find benefits to which they are entitled. The White House press office released this fact sheet with much more detailed information on April 12. Note: if you have already filed your taxes, you can amend them after April 15 to collect on any credits from the stimulus bill that you missed.

Weekly Audit: Attack of the Imaginary Budget Demons

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

On Feb. 1, President Barack Obama unveiled his 2011 budget proposal. While conservative pundits reacted with predictable, yet preposterous, wailing about the federal budget deficit, the short-term U.S. budget outlook is just fine. If anything, Obama’s budget doesn’t dedicate nearly enough funding to create jobs.

As John Nichols notes for The Nation, Obama budgets just $100 billion for jobs in fiscal 2011. The amount is nowhere near enough to make a significant dent in the epic unemployment rate. The government’s fiscal 2011 calendar begins in October of this year, and by that time, the stimulus package Obama pushed through in February of 2009 will have been exhausted, leaving the labor market without serious support from the federal government.

The free market isn’t going to take care of the jobs shortage on its own. While the unemployment rate fell from 10.0% to 9.7% during January, the “improvement” is really just a statistical mirage—the economy actually lost 20,000 jobs during the month.

If we had pushed through a bigger, or as Nichols notes, a better stimulus package in the first place, we might not be facing the same situation today. Part of the problem is that Obama redirected about $326 billion of the $787 billion bill away from direct job-creation efforts toward a set of tax cuts intended to appease Republican senators.

Tax cuts do not equal job growth

But as Art Levine emphasizes for Working In These Times, the $100 billion that Obama sets aside for job creation in 2011 appears once again to take the form of relatively inefficient tax cuts. Giving money to businesses, even small businesses, isn’t really going to make them start hiring unless there’s a real demand for what those businesses produce. When everybody is broke and out of work, that demand doesn’t exist, since people don’t have money to spend.

If the government wants to create jobs, it has to do it directly by hiring people to help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure through institutions such as schools, transportation and green energy. Just as important, the federal government can provide funding to state and local governments to make sure that jobs that serve our communities—teachers, cops, etc.—don’t disappear.

Sure, these things cost money. But the short-term budget deficit is nowhere near the current deficits of many European nations, or the deficits the U.S. ran during World War II. The budget deficit only matters to economics insofar as it raises concerns that the government will not be able to pay back its debt. But despite caterwauling from the right, investors just aren’t worried about a U.S. debt default. If they were, they would demand very high interest rates on Treasury bonds, and Treasury rates are at their lowest levels in decades.

If policymakers want to keep the jobs bill from running the deficit higher, they could always raise taxes on somebody. Financial speculation on Wall Street seems like a good place to start, but just about any tax on the wealthy would work fine. Rich people don’t get hammered by recessions. After all, they’re rich.

Overzealous tax cuts hurt communities

In a piece for AlterNet, David Sirota details the budgetary disaster that has already befallen the city of Colorado Springs, CO., a conservative enclave where anti-tax extremists have managed to slash just about every basic government service imaginable. Rather than impose some modest taxes on the wealthy, Colorado Springs is going to lay off cops and firefighters, let its parks go to waste, shut-down rec centers and museums and even allow its streetlights to go out. This is the Republican plan for fiscal responsibility.

But several state governments recognize that shredding the social fabric just isn’t a good idea. In Oregon, Sirota notes, voters just approved two ballot initiatives to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals rather than allow their state to slide into social decay.

How to deal with a deficit

There are two ways to increase a budget deficit: You can either increase spending, or cut taxes. If you want to decrease the budget deficit, you can either cut spending, or raise taxes. As Kevin Drum notes for Mother Jones, Republicans both increased spending and cut taxes during the George W. Bush presidency. Now those same so-called fiscal conservatives are feigning outrage over the prospect of the government actually spending some money to put people back to work. These are not serious economic arguments—conservative politicians are just hoping to gut progressive policy priorities.

But while the attacks don’t hold any water, conservative media outlets are latching on to them, and Obama isn’t pushing back.

What caused the current crisis

Writing for The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner notes Obama’s recent support for a proposal from right-wing deficit hawks to create a commission to evaluate the causes of our so-called fiscal crisis. But we already know what put us in the current fiscal situation: Rising health care costs, a brutal recession, and the Bush era. The commission is being pushed by radical conservatives for a reason—it’s part of an effort to gut Social Security. It’s bad economics, bad public policy and it badly misreads the real source of public discontent. Kuttner explains:

“Public concern about deficits is really a proxy for broader unease that government is not delivering enough practical help . . . . The president should be helping citizens sort this out, not caving in to the fear-mongers.”

Fortunately, as Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Senate leaders appear committed to passing at least some kind of legislation to help put people back to work.

Whatever right-wing pundits say, the U.S. fiscal crisis remains a totally theoretical problem. Someday, if the U.S. budget does not come down, it is conceivable that investors would be reluctant to purchase U.S. debt. For now, that is simply not the case. But the crisis in the job market is very real and requires direct action. Put simply, the deficit is no excuse for inaction.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Ending the Economic Status Quo

by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger  

The banking lobby still holds enough sway inside the Beltway to torpedo sensible consumer protection rules, even after releasing a flood of predatory mortgages that kicked off the current economic crisis. On issues ranging from payday loans to subprime mortgages, the banking industry continues to successfully defend itself against new regulations that would protect the consumer. As if that weren't outrage enough, the finance lobby has also joined other corporate interest groups to fund misinformation campaigns that smear unions and block wage growth.  

There's more...

Reframing Tax Cuts As Fiscally Irresponsible

If anything has undermined the rightwing trope that cutting taxes on the rich is the way to grow the economy, it should have been the last 8 years. Yet even today the rightwing noise machine insists that allowing Bush's tax cuts to expire at the end of 2010 -- as they were always meant to do and as Barack Obama said he would do -- is akin to raising taxes and is proof that Obama is a wide-eyed lib who is waging a war on wealth. Well, that argument may have just gotten a whole lot more difficult to make now that John McCain's top economic advisor has called for their expiration in the name of economic recovery.

According to Taegan Goddard:

Though economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin spent the 2008 presidential campaign advising Sen. John McCain to defend the Bush-era tax cuts, he now thinks they should be allowed to expire on Dec. 31, 2010 due to "the prospect of an Argentina-style fiscal meltdown."

Said Holtz-Eakin: "If you ask: 'Who pays the taxes?', it's the first step toward not having the answer be: 'Our kids.'"

This is very interesting because it signals an evolution on the right away from their blind tax cuts are the answer orthodoxy. If I find video of the exact quote I'll post.

There's more...

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