Why Nobody Cares About The Deficit
CNBC recently ran an article that bemoaned the fact that nobody in Washington or in the investor class seems to be concerned about the exploding deficits that Trump has racked up. Since the Republicans regained control of both Houses of Congress in 2015, and the White House in 2017, the annual deficits have doubled from $585 billion to $1 trillion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and the White Office of Management and Budget are forecasting $1 trillion annual deficits for the foreseeable future.
This explosion in the deficit follows eight years of deficit fear mongering from the D.C. Republicans and the pundit class during the Obama era. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans falsely preened as deficit hawks. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane. GOP talking points depend upon amnesia and we Democrats need to refresh memories. History doesn’t begin when Republicans take the microphone or post on social media.
In 2010, Representative Jeff Fortenberry claimed to have “deep concerns” about the “fiscal health of our nation” and came out in favor of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Three years later, the First CD House member contended that “Congress needs to make spending cuts and debt reduction its top priorities in 2013.” In 2015, Fortenberry wrote that he shared “the concerns of many people who worry about spending and growing debt.”
Ben Sasse engaged in similar deficit fear mongering when a Democrat occupied the White House. In a 2014 interview, then Senate candidate Sasse said: “he would reduce the national debt and balance the budget by cutting spending. We’re on a pathway toward a Greek-style debt crisis, and health entitlements are the single largest place where Washington has just made-up hokey math that can’t possibly work.”
What followed these statements has exposed Sasse, Fortenberry and other D.C. Republicans as contemptible hypocrites. As I discussed here earlier, they all voted to double the budget deficits they inherited from President Obama.
This hypocrisy would explain — in part — why many Americans no longer care about the deficit. Republicans only care about the deficit when there is a Democratic president and Democrats are tired of being played for suckers on the deficit by Republicans.
The sense of cynicism generated by the D.C. Republicans’ hypocrisy was further reinforced by surprisingly candid statements from prominent Republicans. One of Trump’s most loyal allies in the House said this in 2017 about the deficit: “It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 150 conservative House members. “It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”
The current GOP controlled executive branch is equally dismissive of the deficits that Republicans have racked up since 2017. In the run up to the 2019 State of the Union Speech, when asked if the deficit would be mentioned, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said “nobody cares.” Mulvaney’s indifference to GOP budget deficits was recently echoed by his boss. The Washington Post reported in 2019 that Trump has responded to criticism of his $1 trillion budget deficits by asserting: “Who the hell cares about the budget? We’re going to have a country.”
What we’ve seen since 2015 follows a historical pattern that goes back to the Ford Administration. Every Democratic president since Jimmy Carter has reduced the deficits he inherited from his Republican predecessor. On the other hand, every Republican president has significantly increased the deficit he inherited from the previous Democratic president. Or in the case of George W. Bush, he squandered Bill Clinton’s $5 trillion surplus.
In 2012, Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman succinctly and presciently summarized GOP fiscal policy as follows: “The Bush experience tells us something important about fiscal policy: namely, that when Democrats get obsessed with deficit reduction, all they do is provide a pot of money that Republicans will squander on more tax breaks for the wealthy as soon as they get a chance.” He also wrote the same year: “The modern American right doesn’t care about deficits, and never did. All that talk about debt was just an excuse for attacking Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps.”
Harry Truman once said: “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” We have seen a consistent pattern from the D.C. Republicans and the pundit class since 1981: They only “care” about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House. The Republicans and the “liberal” mainstream media routinely ask Democratic candidates how are they going to pay for their progressive reforms. If a Republican wants to go to war or cut taxes for the rich, no one asks any questions. But if a Democrat proposes universal pre-kindergarten or expanded health care coverage, then suddenly those same Republicans and reporters want to know how they will pay for it.
I predict that when a new Democratic president is sworn in next year, the D.C. Republicans and the elite press will declare a “deficit emergency” — just like they did in 1993 and 2009. As usual Paul Krugman has said it best: “Let me, however, make a prediction: if a Democrat wins this year, and Republicans still control the Senate, they’ll suddenly discover that deficits are terrible and try to reimpose austerity. GOP economic policy in practice isn’t conservative; it’s politically weaponized Keynesianism. “
What that means is that the D.C. Republicans demand austerity for the middle class and the poor when a Democrat is in the White House in order to sabotage the economy. On the other hand, those same Republicans say absolutely nothing when Republican presidents and Congresses blow up the deficit. That’s all you need to know!
When we inaugurate a Democratic president in 2021, let’s stay focused on investing in our people — and not on the deficit. Yes, we can raises taxes on the super wealthy and the big corporations but let’s not pay heed to the phony deficit concerns of the GOP and the pundits. They are acting in bad faith.
If we want to expand health care and education, we need to win the 2020 elections. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. The Democratic nominee is the only person who can beat Trump. Our party has a rich history. We are the party of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obama Care and civil rights. A second Trump term would destroy these historic achievements. Vote blue no matter who!