Some of the most conservative members of Congress say they are ready to vote for a budget that would -- at least on paper -- balloon the deficit to more than $1 trillion by the end of the decade, all for the sake of eventually repealing the Affordable Care Act.In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.
For decades, Republicans have had an on-again, off-again interest in balancing the budget. 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.So, what's it going to be in the Trump era? Take a wild guess.
As the Washington Post's report makes clear, far-right congressional Republicans, as recently as a year ago, were prepared to "torpedo the entire budget process" rather than vote for a blueprint "that increased spending without balancing the budget."But that was under a Democratic White House. Now that Republicans will control all of the levers of power, GOP priorities have, right on cue, reverted to their traditional norm.At its core, this is a fiscal fight, but it's also a process that tests priorities: conservative lawmakers in the Republican Congress think deficit reduction is nice, but they think gutting the Affordable Care Act is much nicer.Remember, love it or hate it, "Obamacare" is on track to dramatically cut the deficit in the coming years. The Congressional Budget Office has told GOP lawmakers more than once that if they repeal the health care reform law, the deficit they sometimes pretend to care about will balloon by hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade (and even more in the decade that follows).Republicans are nevertheless moving forward with their fiscal plan, which doesn't even try to balance the budget, and which would make the deficit bigger by targeting the ACA.For deficit hawks, that's a problem. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) met with House Freedom Caucus members yesterday, urging the far-right lawmakers to balk at their party's plan, and insisting that repealing the health care law is less important than deficit reduction.By all appearances, the pitch didn't have much of an effect -- and the Freedom Caucus is likely to support the budget plan regardless of its indifference towards the national debt.In fairness, many of these rank-and-file Republicans are moving forward with the assumption that they and their party's leaders will figure out difficult details later, and GOP policymakers will look for savings during the appropriations process and while working on their own health care alternative.For now, however, the Washington Post added that warnings about escalating deficits were met with a "collective shrug" from conservative lawmakers.