Spending: How Republicans learned to love deficits
A growing tower of debt
During the Obama presidency, said Philip Klein in WashingtonExaminer.com, conservatives outraged by deficit spending launched the Tea Party movement to demand fiscal restraint. But now that Republicans have gained full control of the federal government, “they have chosen to repeal the Tea Party.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, President Trump, and other Republicans last week agreed with Democrats to blow up the budgetary spending caps that were the main legacy of the Tea Party movement, agreeing on a two-year spending binge that will force the U.S. to borrow $955 billion this year—nearly double last year’s $519 billion—and $1.15 trillion in 2019. Democrats get an increase in domestic spending from $539 billion to $591 billion, and Republicans get an equivalent bump in military spending, from $634 billion to $700 billion. With no Democrat in the White House, said Catherine Rampell in WashingtonPost.com, “Republicans have learned to love deficits.” But their flip-flop is “breathtakingly ill-timed.” We’re in the ninth year of an economic recovery, and should be paying down the debt we accrued during the recession. For Republicans to be boosting spending now, at the same time Trump’s “ginormous, plutocratic tax cut” sharply reduces federal revenues, is extremely reckless.
Republican priorities have changed, said Kevin Williamson in NationalReview.com. Under Trump, Republicans are pursuing their sincerely held “small-government goals through regulatory reform”—cutting red tape and bureaucracy—and by reducing taxes on businesses. That’s all well and good. But unless they want trillion-dollar deficits forever, Republicans need to face reality, and either make big cuts in spending or raise taxes to the vicinity of Sweden’s 60 percent rate. As Republicans well know, “there is no public appetite” for massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and other safety-net spending, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. “If we want big government, we have to pay for it.” So why did Republicans just cut taxes by $1.5 trillion, mostly for the wealthiest Americans?
Don’t blame Trump alone, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. This is what Republicans always do when they occupy the White House. Under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Republicans cut taxes for the rich and spent like drunken sailors. The moment Democrats regained power, Republicans howled about the “crushing burden” of debt and used it as a pretext to obstruct the Democratic president’s agenda. Republicans “never really cared about debt and deficits,” said Paul Krugman in NYTimes.com. The proof? They just voted “more stimulus to an economy with 4 percent unemployment than they were willing to allow an economy with 8 percent unemployment” in 2009. The only explanation for this fiscal madness is that “a Republican now sits in the White House.”
Democrats aren’t blameless for this “new era of big spending,” said Russell Berman in TheAtlantic.com. Yes, they secured billions for important programs—including children’s health insurance and the opioid crisis—but the whole challenge of two-party politics is to set priorities for finite funding. Right now the parties are simply “cracking open the federal piggy bank and divvying up the spoils” to further their separate agendas. No doubt about it—“the Tea Party is dead,” said former Tea Party leader Matt Kibbe in Reason.com. Trump and his followers don’t care about deficits, and neither do the cynical Republicans running Congress. That means it’s “trillion dollar deficits and red ink as far as the eye can see.” ■