David Wessel, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter, columnist, and bestselling author of In Fed We Trust, dissects a topic–the federal budget–that is fiercely debated today in the halls of Congress and the media, and yet is misunderstood by the American public.
In a sweeping narrative about the people and the politics behind the budget, Wessel looks at the 2011 fiscal year (which ended September 30) to see where all the money was actually spent, and why the budget process has grown wildly out of control. Through the eyes of key people–Jacob Lew, White House director of the Office of Management and Budget; Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office; Blackstone founder and former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson; and more–Wessel gives readers an inside look at the making of our unsustainable budget.
About David Wessel
DAVID WESSEL is economics editor of The Wall Street Journal and writes “The Capital” column, a weekly look at forces shaping living standards around the world. Wessel joined The Wall Street Journal in 1983 after working at the Hartford Courant and the Boston Globe. He is a frequent guest on NPR’s Morning Edition and has shared two Pulitzer Prizes. He and his wife live in Washington, D.C.
Anticipating another summer of posturing and gridlock over the federal budget as President Obama’s re-election hopes and the majority of both houses of Congress hang in the balance, Wessel (In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, 2009, etc.) provides a slender but highly informative volume designed to give voters a grip on what exactly is at stake in this corrosive battle. He begins by clarifying some common misunderstandings: Almost two-thirds of the budget gets spent automatically, with or without the consent or amendment of the current Congress; the U.S. defense budget exceeds those of the next 17 largest powers (including Russia and China) combined; Americans pay less of their income in taxes than citizens of any other developed nation, and have been paying less and less in taxes for 30 years. Wessel then tries to answer the most basic questions about the deficit: how we got here, where the money goes and comes from, and why we need to solve the problem sooner rather than later. He’s the least successful on the last question; the best argument seems to be, “Because everyone thinks so.” Wessel cites experts from left and right, including Paul Krugman and Paul Ryan, among others, without stating a preference for any side. (The hero of the story seems to be Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a nonideological Democrat who, as a congressman, helped forge agreements that made the surpluses of the 1990s possible.) Without explicitly recommending a course, Wessel makes clear that a solution to the problem would necessarily be repugnant to all sides and would include some major changes to entitlement programs as well as increases in taxes for at least several years. – Kirkus Reviews
A Portrait Of A Country Awash In ‘Red Ink’
NPR Book Review – July 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
As the federal debt balloons, reducing it would seem more and more pressing. Yet policymakers remain far apart. Debt, deficit and budget rhetoric is often accompanied by numbers cherry-picked to support a particular political view.
But a new book by Wall Street Journal economics writer David Wessel lays out the numbers that both political parties face.
“In the early 1980s, about 10 percent of the federal budget went to Medicare and Medicaid,” Wessel tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “Now, it’s about a quarter of all spending, and it’s on the way to 33 percent of all spending unless something happens to change the trend.”
The book is called Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget, and it breaks down the budget in stark terms: how the government spends its money, who pays what in taxes, and why politicians can’t reduce a potentially catastrophic debt load.
Wessel tells a story about one politician who didn’t pay his taxes: Richard Nixon. Nixon wasn’t required to disclose his tax returns as a candidate, but he was embarrassed when they were leaked to the Wall Street Journal — revealing that he had paid barely any taxes between 1970 and 1972. “That turned out to be a huge scandal at the time,” Wessel says, “and in fact, it was that report that led Richard Nixon to utter his famous words, ‘I am not a crook.’ ” [Read the full article...]
Facing The Fiscal Cliff: Congress’ Next Showdown
NPR Book Review – July 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
In December, Congress is poised for another showdown on the deficit and taxes. If Congress doesn’t act, 2013 will mark the end to Bush-era tax cuts that have been in place for a dozen years, and the beginning of automatic cuts to domestic and defense programs that would total $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office says the combination of higher taxes and deep spending cuts could create a 4 percent reduction in economic output, a number big enough to throw the country into another recession. The culmination of higher taxes and spending cuts is being called the “fiscal cliff.”
David Wessel joins Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross to talk about how the federal budget got to this point and the steps Congress could take to pull the nation back from the fiscal cliff. Wessel thinks there is a fundamental difference between the two parties “about how important and how big a role the government should play in our economy and that influences what you think should be done to cure the deficit.”
Wessel believes one possibilty for compromise is to place “pretty tough restraints on spending, on benefit programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, which would be hard for the Democrats to swallow, coupled with some increase in taxes, that would be hard for the Republicans to swallow.”
David Wessel is a weekly columnist and economics editor forThe Wall Street Journal and writes the Capital column. His previous book, In Fed We Trust, chronicled Fed chairman Benjamin Bernanke’s response to the global economic crisis of 2008. His new book is Red Ink: Inside the High Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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