Politifact embarrasses itself again (and hurts GOP in the process)

The lame fact-checker blew it on Eric Cantor's claim about the deficit. But the blowback could be good for America

Published August 6, 2013 5:47PM (EDT)

Eric Cantor                            (AP/Steven Senne)
Eric Cantor (AP/Steven Senne)

When I first noticed that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had cited the "growing deficit" as a rationale for some 2011-style government shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship, I blew it off as a slip of the tongue.

The deficit isn't growing, of course -- it's actually falling at an extraordinary pace, and too fast given how tepid the economic recovery remains. But the debt is growing as a percentage of GDP, and anyhow future deficits are the current fashionable GOP justification for slashing social programs or devolving them to states and private organizations.

So that's what I reasoned Cantor intended to say. And it's true that a more accurate rendering of the federal budget status quo makes the GOP's appropriations and debt limit strategies seem more absurd. Particularly the part about creating an immediate crisis to address -- without raising a penny of tax revenue, mind you -- a budget problem that's years ahead of us.

Maybe he was being deceitful, but I doubt the public has such a nuanced understanding of budget jargon that they would fully support another round of economic hostage taking if the deficit were climbing, but wouldn't if they knew it was falling. And it's not as if citing a phantom "growing deficit" is a necessary subterfuge, without which conservatives would abandon their insurgent efforts to repeal Obamacare or weaken programs that help the poor. This is what they believe, and would be pursuing vigorously no matter what the fiscal year 2013 deficit happened to be.

Thankfully others were less forgiving. The blowback was large enough that Politifact took a look and in typical Politifact fashion erred, substituting Cantor's actual words with the kinds of assumptions I'm making here, along with post-facto rationalization from his staff, and let him mostly off the hook.

Now they're facing their own recriminations, and rightfully so.

Add it all up: Cantor blundered, reporters called him on it, Politifact embarrassed itself again, and I'd wager more people now know that a) the deficit is falling and b) the GOP is pondering another walk to the economic brink than did before Sunday.

Not a bad start to the week.

By Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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Debt Deficit Eric Cantor Fact Checking Politifact