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 [] wrong?”