March 03, 2004

A Good Sign on Kerry Fiscal Policy

It's a very good sign that Roger Altman is taking the lead on putting together the first draft of the Kerry budget priorities document. Roger Altman is very good people: highly competent, steeped in the issues, allergic to the magic asterisk. Moreover, he has the right values--fear of an inefficient and incentive-incompatible tax system, attachment to fiscal prudence as a way of accelerating economic growth, and an understanding of the good that well-designed government spending can do.

He was one of the many impressive economic policy principals whom I had the honor of working for in the early Clinton administration...

Adviser says Kerry will lay out detailed budget plan soon - Mar. 3, 2004: Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry will detail "sooner rather than later" how he would halve the U.S. budget gap in four years, a top adviser said Tuesday. "At some point -- I think it will be fairly soon but I'm not sure when -- Senator Kerry will put forward a comprehensive economic plan," said Roger Altman, a top Treasury Department official under President Bill Clinton. "I'm confident the deficit reduction part of that will be reliable, fully costed and consistent with his pledge to cut the deficit in half over four years," Altman said.

The U.S. budget gap has swelled to record levels on the back of a weak economy, higher spending for defense and domestic security and tax cuts won by President Bush amounting to $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Like Kerry, Bush has vowed to cut the shortfall in half by 2009, even as he calls to make permanent the tax cuts that would otherwise expire by the end of the decade. Altman, chairman of investment banking and private equity boutique Evercore, said Kerry would make Bush's "fiscally ruinous course" a core campaign issue. "I'm quite confident we'll have the high ground," he said...

If anyone had worries about the seriousness of the Kerry economic policy development effort, they can put them to rest right now.

Posted by DeLong at March 3, 2004 03:07 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

sounds good. I was beginning to think that Kerry's deficit rhetoric was just that. It was reason #2 I had supported Dean (#1 was his success in VT re: Healthcare). The key now is to make sure the the public knows that Bush's deficit talk is "all hat and no cattle" and Kerry's has some substance. Because Bush will do all he can to claim that he's a "deficit hawk."

Posted by: Goldberg on March 3, 2004 03:20 PM


A post for Brad: You should ask and see whether any of the people who hounded Altman out of Clinton Administration now remember any of the reasons they thought he had to go.

Posted by: CalDem on March 3, 2004 03:50 PM


When I read this news, Google directed me to a PBS cite which was an interview run by Jim Lehrer where Altman and Domenici were discussing Clinton's first 100 days. I sensed from this interview that Altman was one of the Clinton advisors who got him on track with respect to fiscal responsibility. Your statement here confirms this first impression. Very good news indeed!

Posted by: Harold McClure on March 3, 2004 04:06 PM


And Domenici is the guy who, along with Senator Nunn, co-sponsered the USA Tax, which is the first step towards implementing a progressive consumption tax. So if Altman really is sensitive to the need for incentive-preserving tax reform, maybe we'll see more of that.

Combine it with graduated wage subsidies, and America's working classes can live with free trade, in my humbel opinion.

Posted by: Luke Lea on March 3, 2004 04:47 PM


Note to Roger Altman: From a past 10 year perspective, Democrats already have the high ground on fiscal responsibility.

Posted by: Jess Olson on March 3, 2004 05:11 PM


Don't forget to read the rest of the article linked. Kerry sounds like he's the one who is "all hat and no cattle," with his massive spending programs and economic business-killers somehow combined with supposed deficit reductions. For one thing, if he can bring in a national health care plan for only $72 billion a year, I will personally eat a Madagascar hissing cockroach on national TV.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 3, 2004 05:21 PM


"with his massive spending programs and economic business-killers somehow combined with supposed deficit reductions."

Someone is sounding a lot like the WJS editorial page circa 1992-93. We all know how that turned out...

Posted by: Goldberg on March 3, 2004 05:31 PM


Didn't the Washington Post already report that Kerry's new spending proposals (so far, with some items not calculated yet) would have a net annual increase of $165 Billion to the deficit?

Posted by: Thorley Winston on March 3, 2004 06:37 PM


It is not surprising that Kerry would get good economic advice from a good economic advisor. All the crackpots seem to belong to the GOP- Lindsey, Norquist, Laffer etc. The closest the Dems have to a think tank (before CAP) is Brookings and that is inhabited by serious economists and budget analysts like William Gale, Orszag, Aaron, Rivlin, Mann and Sawhill. The GOP is saddled by the serious libertarian wackos at Cato and unserious analysts at Heritage.

The GOP has turned to academics to fill their economic policy positions, but they don't like academics and do not listen to them. Congress seems to find good credible talent to run the CBO, but they have the Dems to keep them honest.

Posted by: bakho on March 3, 2004 07:57 PM


Last time I checked, Galbraith (sr and jr), Kuttner, Thurow, Bill Greider, and Bob Reich were all Democrats with shattered-cookware tendencies. The difference is, their party is not in power. Just because Clinton wisely didn't listen to them doesn't mean that they're still not out there with a large following.

The signs with Altman are good at least, though Kerry has a lot of recent rhetoric to undo. His past record on fiscal matters is not that great, so this would be a bit of a conversion. Stranger things have happened, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Posted by: Chris on March 3, 2004 08:37 PM


Are we to understand that anything Kerry actually says in public about raising the minimum wage, putting in small "speed bump" style quasi-tarriffs, rolling back NAFTA, restricting international capital flow, inventing FDR/WPA makework jobs, etc etc -- that's just all campaign spin and hype and should not be taken seriously? But we're okay with that as long as we know a grown up responsible sober pragmatic and competent puppet-master will REALLY be pulling the strings behind the political curtain?

Posted by: Pouncer on March 4, 2004 10:39 AM


I (and Brad DeLong) live in a state which last October was facing a $10 billion budget hole. We responded by electing a governor who promised to "stop the crazy deficit spending." As soon as he took office he increased the deficit by $4 billion by cutting vehicle license fees. Then in December he proposed to finance this tax cut by issuing an extra $4 billion in bonds. Yesterday my fellow citizens eagerly approved this bond issue by a wide margin. At the same time they made it clear in no uncertain terms that they will not put up with any tax increases whatsoever as a means of addressing the deficit.

Posted by: anne on March 4, 2004 12:32 PM


As long as John Kerry does not push to increase taxes all should be fine. Repeatedly voters in state on state have made it clear they do not want tax increases for any reason at this time!

Posted by: anne on March 4, 2004 12:35 PM


"We responded by electing a governor who promised to "stop the crazy deficit spending." As soon as he took office..."

Yes, and he is now widely acclaimed as an example of "leadurshep". To point where some would like to amend to Constitution to allow him some time to run for the President... Now, that would be great way to ruin the country and make the US the laughing cow of the world... Gotta change the fundamental laws of this Country to allow for that!

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