The National Debt Clock, a billboard-size digital display showing the increasing US debt, on Sixth Avenue August 1, 2011 in New York.
Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images

Republicans’ concerns about the deficit quietly disappear

Updated
About a year ago, Donald Trump made one of the more outlandish claims of his candidacy: he said he would eliminate the national debt in eight years.

Specifically, Trump told the Washington Post that he wants to see the United States “get rid of the $19 trillion in debt.” Pressed for details, the GOP candidate said he “could do it fairly quickly,” eliminating the debt “over a period of eight years.”

This was, as we discussed at the time, nuts. He was effectively promising to deliver multi-trillion-dollar surpluses every year for eight years, which no one considers even remotely possible.

A year later, the White House doesn’t even pretend to care about those priorities. Politico noted yesterday:
While steep cuts to departments like the EPA are expected under a Republican president, Trump’s plan leaves out the key conservative priority of deficit reduction. […]

[OMB Director Mick Mulvaney], once among Congress’ toughest deficit hawks, also acknowledged the White House budget leaves the nation’s $488 billion federal deficit untouched. The decision ignores what has become the fiscal gold standard within the GOP: a budget that balances within 10 years.
Mulvaney, the president’s budget director, specifically told reporters yesterday, “[J]ust to clarify, it’s not a balanced budget. There will still be roughly a $488 billion deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, next year.”

To be sure, this doesn’t come as too big of a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Republicans to defend.

The Tea Party “movement” was largely built on the idea that the annual budget deficit and overall national debt represented national crises that demanded policymakers’ immediate attention. Throughout the Obama era, congressional Republicans professed panic over the nation’s fiscal imbalance, decrying the horrible burdens Washington was placing on future generations.

As recently as a year ago, GOP lawmakers said in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t take seriously any budget plan that didn’t eliminate the deficit entirely within a decade.

And then Trump was elected, and the entire conversation about the deficit disappeared.

I should note that I’m not a deficit hawk, so I don’t much care that GOP leaders have forgotten the issue they pretended to care about, but I do care about some semblance of policy consistency.

Instead, all we have is a predictable pattern. As we discussed in January, Republicans have had an on-again, off-again interest in balancing the budget for decades. In the Reagan/Bush era, when deficits skyrocketed, GOP policymakers didn’t much care about “fiscal responsibility.” In the Clinton era, Republicans reversed course, insisting that deficit reduction become Washington’s principal focus.

In the Bush/Cheney era, Republicans switched back, declared that “deficits don’t matter,” and put two wars, two tax-cut packages, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout on the national charge card. In the Obama era, Republicans reversed course once again, declaring a balanced budget to be their top priority.

And now that GOP dominance has returned to Washington, D.C., Republicans have switched back. Imagine that.

Defecit Reduction, Deficit, Deficits and Donald Trump

Republicans' concerns about the deficit quietly disappear

Updated