Do you like surprises? I have two surprises for you: At least 19 states already in 2014, nearly half, are posting budget surpluses. Yes, surpluses. The other surprise: Since Obama took office, the national deficit has been reduced by half.
The media are not missing these stories. We’ve heard so little about them because the partisan, negative, atmosphere in Washington drowns out good news. I should mention that is the intent of “modern” campaigning: to keep up unremitting, negative criticism so voters are left with a bad impression of the president.
But what really happens with partisan sniping, as we all know, is that voters are left with a bad impression of everyone.
The truth is that we are experiencing recovery. This news isn’t coming from partisan sources, either. At least three different private-sector research tanks have published the same conclusions, spanning two years.
The surpluses and deficit reduction are no flukes. Let’s start with the deficit reduction, because it is a simple fact five years in the making. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan fact-finder for the U.S. Congress, released a report that showed the National Deficit is at $514 billion dollars, down from last year’s deficit of $680 billion. That’s a 37 percent reduction in one year. Obama inherited, as we all know, an unprecedented financial crisis, which the Government Accountability Office said cost the U.S. economy over $22 trillion.
The fact is the deficit has been falling steadily since 2009. The irony is that the public thinks it hasn’t shrunk at all. A HuffPost/YouGov poll found 54 percent of the public think the deficit has increased since Obama took office. Only 19 percent of the public is aware he has cut the budget deficit by over half. The Obama administration’s focus on economic growth, which economists agree is the fastest method of decreasing deficits, has indeed led to its intended outcome. Unfortunately, the president hasn’t gotten any political benefit from decreasing deficits.
State surpluses are being attributed to two things: national economic growth and an increase in state’s personal income taxes. Incoming revenues from state income taxes are outpacing spending. There is one caveat: Wealthy taxpayers, anticipating federal income tax increases in 2013, shifted income into 2012 to take advantage of the lower taxes, resulting in a bonanza for the states’ personal income taxes.
Now, state governors and legislatures are debating about what should be done with the budget surpluses. Their plans, to the surprise of many, often cross party lines. With Congress all but a useless appendix to the federal government, virtually everybody else — voters, mayors, governors and the president — is using workarounds to do the job Congress should have done in the first place.
USA Today quoted Daniel Coffey, an assistant professor at the University of Akron who studies governors’ state of the state addresses: “They’re more managerial in their approach to governing, especially in their approach to budgets,” said Coffey.
Governors are shunning ideology for pragmatism — an approach Obama has been practicing as well. It’s paying off. But you’d hardly know it. These days, even the good news gets drowned out.
Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist.