WASHINGTON (Reuters) - “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” goes a popular saying in Washington, but it doesn’t necessarily apply in the battle over federal spending and debt.
Democrats rely on a phalanx of White House economists to back up their arguments about how best to balance the budget and boost the economy, while Republicans have a brain trust of their own drawn from the ranks of universities, think tanks and previous Republican administrations.
Following is a highly selective list of economists who have shaped the thinking of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, and other top Republicans in Congress:
ALLEN MELTZER — A Federal Reserve expert who has advised presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Meltzer has advanced several arguments at the core of Republicans’ economic message — most significantly, that Obama’s stimulus measures have created an uncertain business environment.
Removing the threat of tax increases by repealing Obama’s health-care reform and making temporary tax cuts permanent would give businesses the confidence to begin hiring again, says Meltzer, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Capretta, who helped President George W. Bush set up the Medicare prescription drug benefit, is one of the foremost advocates of the market-based healthcare reforms that figure so prominently in the plan drafted by Ryan.
In an influential paper released last December, Capretta and American Enterprise Institute fellow Thomas Miller argue that providing patients with a fixed voucher to buy private insurance would require providers to compete for their care and make consumers more cost-conscious, a cornerstone of Ryan’s approach.
Capretta, now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has also called for eliminating the tax exemption for employer-provided health benefits, which he says helps fuel cost inflation. Instead, he would establish a refundable tax credit for individuals to buy insurance on their own. Those who don’t buy coverage would lose the value of the credit.
The Stanford University professor has been a leading critic of the Federal Reserve’s stimulative monetary policy, saying that its massive bond purchases could spur inflation and have not helped the economy. He thinks the Fed should be stripped of its authority to maximize employment in order to focus solely on maintaining price stability, an increasingly popular view among congressional Republicans.
He wrote that the Republican demand to link deep spending cuts to any debt-limit increase — a stance opposed by the Obama administration — is “good economics in theory and practice” in a June 2 Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Taylor, who developed a widely referenced interest-rate rule that bears his name, was in charge of disrupting terrorists’ financial networks for the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The economist has taken part in bipartisan debt-reduction efforts and won praise from Democrats as well as Republicans during his 2003-2005 stint as head of the Congressional Budget office under President George W. Bush.
In the current debate over the U.S. debt limit, Holtz-Eakin has suggested scaling back healthcare, retirement and farm benefits for wealthy recipients and has warned that tax increases could hurt the budget by slowing economic growth.
As Republican John McCain’s top economic adviser during the 2008 presidential election, Holtz-Eakin helped craft an economic plan that called for further tax cuts and removing the tax exemption for employee health benefits.
But he does not back the idea, increasingly popular among conservatives, that the Treasury Department could avoid a default by prioritizing debt service over other spending. He says that approach would require immediate and severe spending cuts that would cause a “catastrophic negative shock” to the economy, while only deferring inevitable payments.
A former Federal Reserve governor who helped President George W. Bush craft his first tax cut, Lindsey has warned that the Fed’s bond-buying program could worsen the United States’ long-term budget woes by pushing up borrowing costs unless the country gets deficits under control. He has also argued that the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus was not targeted effectively because it did not inject money directly into the economy through measures like a payroll tax cut.
Republicans have been reluctant to tackle the popular Social Security retirement program since Bush’s privatization proposal died a quick death in 2005. But they have been listening to Biggs, a scholar at the conservative AEI think tank, who would scale back benefits to a minimal level to encourage more private saving while providing a baseline safety net. Biggs also backs an increase in the retirement age — an option mentioned by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
If Republicans decide to take another crack at Social Security reform, Biggs’ proposals are sure to get a long look.