Hardball with Chris Matthews, 1/3/13, 7:00 PM ET

Washington power struggle sets stage for future fiscal fight

Economist Jared Bernstein and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum discuss how Republicans have used deficit reduction as a cover to shred the social safety net.

How the GOP uses the deficit as cover to shred the social safety net

Updated

Republicans appear to be hiding behind the deficit to mask their true goals: Protecting the rich from taxes and shrinking the size of government, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and former economist for the Obama administration, Jared Bernstein, argued on Thursday night’s Hardball.

And they’re not alone. Robert Reich, who served as Bill Clinton’s labor secretary, went as far as to write Wednesday that “if the ongoing war between Republicans and Democrats was really over those future budget deficits, you might expect Republicans and Democrats to be focusing on ways to hold down future healthcare costs…But they’re not debating this, because the federal deficit is not what this war is about. It’s about the size of government. Tea Party Republicans…want the government to be much smaller.”

Shrum argued that Republicans “want to hide behind the rubric of reducing spending.” But really, he said, “they want to starve the government. They want to shred the social safety net. They lost the last election, they not only lost that, they lost the last century. So now they’d like to repeal much of the New Deal, much of the Great Society, get rid of healthcare reform.”

It’s ironic, Shrum said, because most of the debt came from Republicans, including former President George Bush’s two wars and an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit.

For years, Republicans–and many Democrats—have campaigned hard on shrinking America’s ballooning budget deficits. But today, with the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling already eclipsed, many lawmakers seem to be all hat and no cattle. The fiscal-cliff deal Congress just approved actually raises the nations projected debt—by some $4 trillion.

Bernstein told Hardball guest host Michael Smerconish that Obama presented a budget that would stabilize the debt that the GOP and the House weren’t interested in.

“I think where the hypocrisy is so clear here is every non-partisan budget analyst…agrees. You simply can’t achieve a sustainable budget path without both [spending cuts and tax increases]. And we have a group of Republicans who have stonewalled on both, and were only recently forced into swallowing into what is a relatively small tax increase.”

Shrum said “what you have here is a Republican party enthralled to the Tea Party. You have a speaker of the House who is now a  zombie. He’s less a speaker than a ventriloquist for the Tea Party and it’s very hard to get things done.”

How the GOP uses the deficit as cover to shred the social safety net

Updated