Republicans rekindle their love of budget deficits

Red pencil and calculator

(ginasanders/Big Stock Photo)

Remember when Republicans hated budget deficits? Remember when they railed nonstop about red ink and pined for fiscal conservatism? That was their mantra during all the years of Obama.

But then came Jan. 20, 2017 — and presto! Their deficit hawk talk magically vanished. Suddenly they didn’t care anymore about balancing the books; suddenly conservatives like Paul Ryan were no longer inveighing against a rising federal debt that, in his words, would “mortage our children’s future.” Suddenly they were on board with plans — unveiled yesterday in a broad skeletal framework — to champion tax “reform” that would add trillions to the budget deficit.

In the words of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “the country cannot afford a deficit-financed tax cut … The plan would add a substantial amount to federal debt, and it would be impossible to offset this amount solely through higher economic growth.” But the so-called fiscal conservatives of the GOP are veritably jonesing to swim in red ink.

It’s fascinating, the havoc that tribal partisanship can wreak on a party’s purported ideological convictions. Red ink under Obama? Bad. Red ink under Trump? Good.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s columnist Greg Ip, in today’s Wall Street Journal: “Throughout Barack Obama’s eight years as president, Republicans hammered relentlesssly at the horrors of debt … Last year candidate Donald Trump repeatedly ripped Mr. Obama for doubling the national debt. Yet in their drive to overhaul taxes, President Trump and his congressional allies are about to make the trajectory of debt even worse.”

The bottom line, he says, is that “fiscal rectitude will take a back seat to the raw political imperative of getting a tax cut passed.”

And what a tax plan it is. We are shocked, shocked to discover that it’s a windfall for the 1 percent (including Trump and his family); that it offers a relative pittance to middle-class families; and that it offers virtually nothing to lower-income households. The suckered students of Trump University at least got a decent monetary settlement; for most suckered Americans, no such luck.

It’s basically your standard regressive Republican plan, and it’ll seriously deepen the deficit because it slashes way too much tax revenue. Trump and his GOP allies have a simple answer for that. They insist that the deficit really won’t be so bad. They think that their tax cuts will unleash the economy at an annual growth pace rarely if ever seen in American history, thus magically generating huge new infusions of tax revenue, thus narrowing the deficit. As Trump said back in 2015, when he began to spread his fairy dust, “We’re going to absolutely be able to pay for [the tax cuts]. My economy will expand so rapidly.”

How many times do we have to hear this hooey? It’s the supply-side “trickle down” con that has been floated since the Ronald Reagan era. Reagan and George W. Bush signed huge tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations that were billed as dynamic economic stimulants that would produce new revenues that would shrink the deficit. You may recall what happened next. Their tax cuts hugely deepened the deficit and added trillions to the federal debt.

As the Wall Street Journal columnist points out, the standard Republican claim — that upper-bracket tax cuts will trigger huge economic growth, which will trigger new tax revenue, which will narrow the deficit — is, in truth, “contrary to history and mainstream economic opinion.” At best, the Republican claim “is a politically convenient face-saver.” In short, any Republican who floats the trickle-down con is willfully lying.

But hey, at least one Republican congressman is honest about what’s happening. Mark Walker, a prominent House right-winger, said yesterday that fiscal conservatism “is a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led. It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”

Seriously, though, how come the Republicans got so incensed about the budget deficit and the federal debt when Obama was president, but are content to crater both ledgers now that he’s no longer president? Could it have something to do with the fact that Obama’s red ink was the result of spending policies that were geared to help people most in need, whereas the red ink envisioned by all-Republican rule would result from policies geared to help people who least need it?

Ah, now we’re getting warmer.

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