Bennet, Krugman and Deficits: Questions for Sen. Bennet

It was not Senator Michael Bennet’s No vote on the budget deal, but rather his explanation that he did so because the deal did not reduce the deficit, that brought to mind the only opportunity I have had to ask a question directly of Sen. Bennet. It was during the 2010 campaign in a small gathering after a larger campaign event in Colorado Springs. I wanted to ask the same questions of his education policy, but restricted my inquiry to economics: “Who do you read? Who do you listen to?”

I noted there were a number of economists who had been generally correct about the economy over the previous decade-folks like Paul Krugman, Robert Schiller, Dean Baker and Joesph Stiglitz. There were also a number of economists who had been dead wrong. Bennet’s policy positions on his website put him in the group who were wrong. So I asked, “Why are you right and Krugman wrong?”

Bennet insisted that he did read Paul Krugman and that “Krugman isn’t wrong!” But the meeting ended before I could follow up with questions about why his policy positions were then so different from Krugman’s. Bennet’s deficit fixation shows his views are still different-and they are still wrong.

So I just sent off a letter to Sen. Bennet that again asks the questions I asked over two years ago: “Who do you read? Who do you listen to? Why are you right and Krugman wrong?”

(Full letter to Bennet-with more detail-below the jump.)


Dear Senator Bennet:

The January 1, 2013 vote on the budget bill was a tough call. I respect Senator Mark Udall’s Yes vote. On the other hand, I applaud Senator Tom Harkin’s eloquent statement explaining his No vote. I cannot, however, applaud the reason for your No vote–a fixation on the deficit, a vote for austerity and unnecessary continued suffering.

There is no reason you would remember this conversation, but during your 2010 election campaign, I was among a small group of activists who met with you following a larger campaign event in Colorado Springs. I asked the last question, as your staff was trying to move you on to your next appointment. My question concerned your economic policy: “Who do you read?”

I explained that I had reviewed the economic and fiscal policy statements on your website. I noted that there were a number of economists who had been largely correct about the economy over recent years-folks like Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Robert Shiller, and Joseph Stiglitz. There were also a number of (prominent) economists who had been dead wrong. The policies on your website-especially the emphasis on the deficit-were the opposite of that advocated by the economists who had been right. So my question to you was, “Who do you read? Who do you listen to? Why are you right and Paul Krugman wrong?”

You insisted, “Krugman’s not wrong!” and you claimed you did read Krugman. But then you proceeded to explain that Congressional Democrats needed to do a better job explaining their policies and having a consistent message. I pointed out that Democrats had long been lousy at that; you agreed, and proceeded to talk more of what the message should be. At that point, your staff insisted you needed to move on to the next event and the discussion ended. Unfortunately, I was left without an answer to my questions.

If you indeed read Krugman, Baker, Stiglitz, etc., you know that they have continued to be correct. We are seeing Europe fall back into recession as the consequence of the austerity and deficit reduction they have pursued and against which Krugman warned. Even the IMF is finally acknowledging that fact.

So if Krugman and all are “not wrong,” why are the policies on your website, and the reasoning for your No vote (that the deal did not sufficiently address the deficit), the opposite of what they are advocating? They argue that the focus now must be on employment and stimulus, that deficit reduction now not only creates unnecessary suffering but actually hurts the long term deficit reduction because it slows and could even reverse the recovery, and that when (but only when) the economy recovers is the time for mid- and long-term deficit reduction. If they are right, you are wrong.

My concern is not over whether a Yes or a No vote was best for this specific bill. My concern is that you are misguided about the correct current policy while the recession is still is a very tenuous recovery and the focus needs to be on jobs, employment and economic recovery. So I ask you again, please explain, “Why are you right and Paul Krugman [et.al.] wrong?”

5 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. botw says:

    I understand your concern.

    I am a big Paul Krugman fan and a big Michael Bennet fan.  I had a similar reaction when I heard Senator Bennet’s reason for his nay vote.  But I’ve read more about the deal and more about what the Senator has said publicly abut his vote, and I’ve calmed down.

    He could do more to explain himself, but I think he voted against the deal because it is a bad deal, pure and simple, and it’s not the deal that should have been done.

    Long-term deficit reduction is indeed very important.  Krugman says this all the time.  Bennet says that, too, and they are both right.  I do not think Bennet voted no because the bill doesn’t massively slash spending today.  I think he voted against the deal because this was the moment when the Congress and Administration were supposed to do a big, comprehensive deal, one that addressed both taxes and spending in a bipartisan way, and they didn’t do it.  I suspect he would prefer more than the President got on taxes (and hopefully will get in the next deal(s)).  I suspect he would like the President to have used his leverage for a bigger, more comprehensive deal.  I suspect he badly wishes there were more calm, sane, balanced people like he is.  As much as that is a tempting target for us progressives, Bennet is not the bad guy here.  He is and always will be fundamentally middle of the road on many issues, and that is a fair representation of his constituents in this state.

    Bottom line: it is entirely possible to be both a Krugman and a Bennet fan, and I’m still both.

    • gaf says:

      There are a number of areas where Bennet is being an excellent leader. I support him. But I will push a politician when I think he or she needs to be pushed, and will disagree when I think he or she is wrong.

      I was concerned in my conversation two years ago that Sen. Bennet’s first response was to talk about messaging rather than directly answer my question about the apparent differences between him and Krugman. It had none of the nuance that you think he believes, and neither did his initial explanation of this budget vote–it only gave support to the deficit hawks. If it is only a difference of messaging rather than policy, well, he has had a couple of years to get that right and hasn’t.

      I hope your perception is right. I hope that Bennet’s actions and words will soon demonstrate that he believes reducing unemployment and improving the economy are the immediate needs that will also help reduce the deficit–and are in fact necessary (though certainly not sufficient by themselves) to reducing the long-term deficit. Perhaps he will answer my questions and give me that assurance.

       

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      “I think…”, “I do not think…”, “I suspect…”

      It’s nice that you hope he did this for good reasons. But the bottom line is you don’t know. And Senator Bennet’s record has been consistent – he always votes as Wall St wishes on financial issues.

      I’m with gaf – clear specific answers from Senator Bennet would be nice.

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