The perception of the Republican Party as the anti-deficit party used to be 100% true. A couple of generations ago, the GOP actually saw the deficit as a legitimate concern, and shaped their policy agenda accordingly. During the Eisenhower era, Republicans kept very high tax rates in place, first approved to pay for WWII, in the name of fiscal conservativism. Many Republicans balked at JFK’s tax breaks out of fear of higher deficits.
Obviously, those eras are long gone. The GOP’s shift began in earnest under Reagan, but became almost ridiculous under George W. Bush – an era in which Republicans put the cost of two wars, a Wall Street bailout, massive tax cuts, and Medicare expansion on the national charge card for some future generation to worry about.
But once the Obama era began, GOP leaders decided they cared about the deficit again. It was impossible to take seriously – we’re talking about literally the same people who ignored the deficit in the previous decade – but Republicans actively pretended they had both credibility and genuine concerns about budget shortfalls.
It’s hard not to notice, however, that much of the new congressional Republican agenda has a common thread. See if you notice what these measures have in common. On health care:
A Republican bill to change how Obamacare defines a full work-week would raise the deficit by $53.2 billion over the next decade.
The official budget scorekeeper of Congress says the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks, would increase Medicaid costs by as much as $400 million…. CBO officially estimates that the bill increases federal deficits by $75 million between 2014 and 2018, and $225 million between 2014 and 2023.
Senate Democrats threatened Thursday to block action on legislation funding the Homeland Security Department until Republicans jettison House-passed provisions that reverse President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies…. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the measure would increase the federal deficit by $7.5 billion over a decade.
How would Republicans prevent these proposals from increasing the deficit? With offsetting cuts? Higher taxes? Neither, actually – GOP lawmakers are content to approve their priorities regardless of the impact on the budget shortfall.
It seems about once a week or so, GOP lawmakers unveil some new priority, they learn their idea would make the deficit worse, and they quietly make clear they couldn’t care less.
All of which made it quite amusing to see Republicans complaining about President Obama’s upcoming budget plan, claiming that it – you guessed it – doesn’t go far enough to reduce the deficit that Republicans created in the Bush/Cheney era.
Danny Vinik is absolutely right:
Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this two-faced policymaking. If they care about the deficit, they have to care about it in all contexts. If not, then they shouldn’t justify their opposition to Obama’s policies on grounds that they increase the deficit. When Republican congressmen react to Obama’s budget and undoubtedly invoke the deficit, the media should ask them why they didn’t care about the deficit last year. Maybe there will be some accountability for a change.
Well, there certainly should be some accountability for a change, but Republicans seem awfully confident that that they’ll face no consequences whatsoever for their incoherent whining about the deficit. Given recent history and misplaced public perceptions, I suspect their expectations are probably correct.