National Republicans have shape-shifted completely on what was their fiscal holy grail — at least when they weren’t in charge.
Well, that should settle it: Republicans only really care about the national debt when they can’t do anything about it.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a budget blueprint that agrees to shift more than $1.5 trillion in proposed tax cuts straight to the U.S. credit card.
So it’s now official: After marching around in tri-corner hats warning about how debts and deficits were sucking freedom right out of the country for the eight years when the other guys were in the White House, the GOP has executed one of the more remarkable flip-flops on a core political value.
“Let it be shouted from every mountaintop in the United States: Today’s Republican Party is a federal budget-deficit and national-debt fraud,” says Georgetown professor and former congressional budget staffer Stan Collender.
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“Yes, I used the ‘f’ word,” he added sheepishly.
Both parties balloon federal spending and budget deficits most of the time. The only time we achieved an annual balance in my lifetime was due to the joint efforts of a Republican president, the first George Bush, and a Democratic one, Bill Clinton. The annual deficit then was an even bigger share of the economy, so both spent tremendous political capital to raise taxes and trim spending. It cost Bush his job.
Since then, though, the Republicans in particular have been shamelessly opportunistic on the issue. From 2001 to 2008 they slashed taxes and bloated spending, enacting then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s infamous dictum that “deficits don’t matter.”
But as soon as President Obama took office, in 2009, it not only mattered again, it was the holy grail of politics.
“The increasing national debt is a grave threat to our national sovereignty and the personal and economic liberty of future generations,” the Tea Party Patriots (remember them?) said back in 2011.
I went to a tea party rally at Seattle’s Westlake Park in the spring of 2010 at which the debt was railed at not just as a fiscal challenge, but a cultural threat. It was literally altering America’s identity. “No More Borrowing,” read a sign. “Welcome to France.”
The budget blueprint approved this week includes some wildly rosy economic-growth factors that have been rejected by most economists. But even with those, the budget foresees adding $2.6 trillion to the $20 trillion debt (most of that from the tax cuts). Without the rosy growth, we’ll be at least $4 trillion or $5 trillion more in the hole.
Prediction: If this debt-bloating plan passes, Republicans will immediately pivot back to caterwauling about the evils of the debt.
“Hey, you, rural, middle class, conservative Trump voters,” Seattle’s liberal provocateur, plutocrat Nick Hanauer, shouted into the void by tweet the day of the budget vote.
“Was your expectation that your guy was going to try to pass a giant tax cut for rich, urban elitist, liberals like me, just so they can cut your Medicare benefits?”
Set aside Hanauer’s trademark snark, if you can, and he’s making a legitimate point. Which is: If you cut revenues and just borrow to make up the difference, most of that has to be paid back from somewhere, by somebody. Eventually.
What’s maddening is this was exactly the argument the tea party and Republicans in Congress made so stridently back when Obama was heaping a stimulus plan, including $400 billion in tax cuts, onto the debt. (My response to that at the time was a public letter to Obama saying “I don’t want your tax cut.”)
So the same type of actions that back then touched off a street rebellion are today hailed as critical boosts for the economy?
The deficit is “the nation’s most serious long-term problem,” said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, adding that this made him one of the “adults in the room.” Only he said that in 2012. Today? Deficit schmeficit.
Hypocrisy is the easiest dig in politics. But this shape-shifting goes beyond hypocrisy. Maybe that f-word does fit.