Washington Post Baselessly Asserts Obama Lacks “Fiscal Credibility”

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlights this odd passage in today's Washington Post:

Obama, who has overseen an expansion in spending, does not have the fiscal credibility that helped give President Bill Clinton the winning political hand in 1995 and 1996.

As Baker explains, that's a dubious assertion from a policy perspective:

One might think that whether or not President Obama has “fiscal credibility” is an assessment that readers should make for themselves. … According to the Congressional Budget Office and a wide range of private forecasters, the increase in spending that has taken place on President Obama's watch has boosted growth and prevented the unemployment rate from rising further.

It is bizarre to imply that because he acted to prevent a steeper recession President Obama lacks fiscal credibility. By the Post's logic, President Roosevelt could have established fiscal credibility by cutting the defense budget in half in 1943 in the middle of World War II. While most people might have viewed letting our military lose to the Axis powers in order to balance the budget as close to crazy, the Post no doubt would have applauded such an act of fiscal responsibility. At least it would if it applied the paper's current logic.

But maybe the Post wasn't assessing Obama's “fiscal credibility” from a policy standpoint; maybe it was suggesting that the public doesn't see him as credible. But if that's what the Post meant, the comparison to Clinton in 1995 is dubious, as a quick scan through the Washington Post's own archives demonstrates:

Washington Post, January 6, 1995:

“At the start of the new legislative season, descriptions of a right-wing takeover of Congress overstate how the public sees the revolution. The new poll suggests that in a country increasingly skeptical about big government, the GOP for now has captured the political center.

Despite Clinton's recent proposal for a ” Middle-Class Bill of Rights," the public now trusts the Republicans more than the Democrats to help the middle class, by 49 percent to 41 percent. Majorities also trusted the Republicans over the Democrats to cut taxes and reduce the deficit.

Washington Post, March 21, 1995:

Republicans remain more trusted than Clinton to deal with the “main problems the nation faces.”

A total of 1,524 randomly selected adults were interviewed by telephone March 16-19. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Republicans in Congress were trusted more than Clinton in reforming welfare, handling crime, cutting taxes and reducing the budget deficit, the survey found.

Washington Post editorial, August 25, 1995:

The majority doesn't like the Democrats much, either. The [Times Mirror Center] poll found Americans saying they would vote for Republican over Democratic congressional candidates by 50 percent to 43 percent -- a bigger margin than the GOP enjoyed last November. The same voters who rejected many of the Republican specifics in the budget still said they prefered the party's approach to the deficit than that of Mr. Clinton and the Democrats.

Clinton didn't go into the 1995 budget battle with strong public backing on fiscal issues; he gained support during those fights. As Baker points out, the Post's assessment of Obama's “credibility” doesn't make much sense on policy grounds. Nor does the comparison to Clinton make sense from a public opinion standpoint.

There's another problem with the Post article. The paper reports:

The House passed a measure last month that would reduce spending by $61 billion over the seven months left in this fiscal year. The Democrats who control the Senate say those cuts are far too steep and would endanger both the economic recovery and a host of vital programs.

But it isn't just “The Democrats who control the Senate” who say those cuts would endanger the economic recovery. Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics, an economic advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign, says the cuts would cost 700,000 jobs. Goldman Sachs has offered a similar analysis. Rather than making unsubstantiated assertions about who has “fiscal credibility” the Post should give readers information like that, and let them decide who they find credible.