EDITORIAL: Where are the deficit hawks?
In hitching their political fortunes to the now-falling star that is President Donald Trump, Republicans have been forced to shed many of their previous positions.
The family values party? Please! Consider the sexual transgressions President Trump has admitted to — let alone those he’s been accused of.
The law and order party? Elected Republicans have turned their backs as the William Barr-led Department of Justice has become a veritable Trump protection racket, from withholding potentially damaging information (the Mueller report) to refusing to pursue credible accusations of misdoings (its refusal to investigate Trump’s now-infamous call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky) to going after the president’s perceived enemies (its criminal probe into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation).
But as bad as these abandonments of past principles are — and they’re heinous — they pale in comparison to the political “180” the party has done on the issue of spending and deficits.
The federal government announced Friday that the 2019 federal deficit clocked in at a jaw-dropping $984 billion. That’s the highest level in seven years and it comes amid an economy that the president is endlessly touting as the most successfully in history. And — fasten your seatbelts — the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the deficit will be even worse next year, surpassing $1 trillion.
Whither the fiscal conservatism the Republican Party touted so loudly for so long?
Recall, this is the party that insisted every dollar of proposed spending during the Obama administration be offset by equitable cuts elsewhere in the budget. This is the party that shut down the government rather than raise the debt ceiling to pay for spending Republicans themselves had already signed off on.
This wasn’t all just political theater, designed to thwart a Democratic president they had no intention of working with while playing to the most crimson swaths of the red-state base, was it?
The answer came as soon as they GOP took over the White House and both houses of Congress.
The same party leaders who are now screaming bloody blue murder over what they call “secret” impeachment depositions — at which dozens of Republicans are nonetheless present — cloistered itself off in 2017 to write a $1.5 trillion tax cut which overwhelmingly benefited corporations and the wealthiest Americans. No Democrats took part in the secretive meetings and no public hearings were held.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Rules are Made to Be Broken” McConnell dubbed the measure a reconciliation bill, foreclosing the possibility of a filibuster. The rushed-through package, unveiled in the Senate just hours before the vote and packed with last-minute giveaways to the ultrarich, was passed in the wee hours of a Saturday morning on a party-line vote. The fiscal conservatives had given away the store.
And it is them we have to thank (OK, blame) for the indefensible and unsustainable deficits that are adding to the already heart-stopping national debt, now approaching $23 trillion.
That’s because, with fewer tax receipts coming in, spending rose more than twice the amount of revenues last year — the widest such disparity since we were clawing our way out of the last Republican-created fiscal catastrophe, the Great Recession. The promise that those hefty tax cuts would pay for themselves has turned to be as empty as the promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.
“The current levels of debt are unprecedented in peacetime during a growing economy, and the consequences of this irresponsible spending are unknown,” G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told the New York Times.
But Republicans were mum in the wake of the deficit news.
Why have fiscally conservative voices, so shrill and certain during Democratic administrations, gone silent? Where are the calls for spending discipline, lower deficits and balanced budgets? Where have all the deficit hawks gone?
Or maybe a better question is, were they ever there in the first place?