Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Feb. 8, 2023

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Jayne: Sound bites go only so far

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

It was wonkish at times, which defines as “studiously concerned with minutiae.” And while that doesn’t always make for exciting video, campaigns should require more depth and thoughtfulness than “Make America Great Again.” Policy should matter more than sound bites.

At least, that was the thinking when The Columbian’s Editorial Board met recently with Jaime Herrera Beutler and Carolyn Long for a remote interview. You might have heard of them; they are running for representative from Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, just as they did two years ago. And because we are more interested in policy than catchphrases, the discussion took deep dives into tax policy and health care policy and racial justice.

It might not be as visceral as a political rally, but it is worth watching for those who wish to make an informed decision in the general election.

Both candidates are smart, articulate and capable of effectively serving this region. Perhaps most important in this age of divisiveness, neither is an ideologue — although both will try to paint their opponent as such. And while Herrera Beutler and Long both make good points on various issues, the devil often is in the details.

Take budgeting and taxes and the federal deficit. Despite a robust economy before the coronavirus pandemic, that deficit was on pace to be about $1 trillion this year. Which is something Republicans, including Herrera Beutler, pretended to care about when a Democrat was in the White House. Now they happily pass along the bill for a national debt that is more than $26 trillion and pretend that everything is hunky-dory.

We’ll save you the math — that debt is more than $80,000 for every person in the United States.

With the pandemic, the number is growing quickly, and it is growing out of necessity. Congress has spent trillions to keep the economy from collapsing and to keep people employed. No complaints about that; it’s better than opening soup kitchens and bread lines for masses of out-of-work Americans.

Someday, however, when the pandemic has subsided and the economy has recovered, we’ll need to pay back those trillions. No, really; we’ll need to pay it back. Well, maybe not us, but our children and grandchildren. And if you don’t believe it, consider this: Interest on the national debt already consumes about 9 percent of the annual federal budget, or roughly $400 billion.

Now, getting voters to care about the national debt is like trying to pique their interest in the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. That is understandable; but when it comes to a congressional representative, it seems these things should matter. They are, after all, spending your money.

So I asked Herrera Beutler how we eventually will pay for all this. “In the long run … the next step and why it’s so important to protect small businesses through this, is they’re the ones who are going to lead us into a recovery.”

And 225 words later I asked again. “Our economy has to move again.”

And once that happens?

“Before the pandemic, our economy was bumping around between 3 1/2 to 4 percent (growth). We were at record-low unemployment, and tax receipts were coming in at record numbers.”

Which points out the canard that is modern Republican policy. Because according to the World Bank, the U.S. economy grew 2.3 percent last year. And while tax receipts for Fiscal Year 2019 were at record levels, according to the Tax Policy Center, they were at their lowest percentage of GDP since 2012. All of this despite huge corporate tax cuts that were supposed to grow the economy and instead have done nothing but increase the debt and save Jeff Bezos a bunch of money.

All of this is secondary to the more immediate concerns of a public health crisis and a shuttered economy and racial injustice. But eventually we will be able to look past present crises and think about the future of the country. And we just might realize that it is a good idea to be concerned with the wonkish details of economic policy.