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2018 and the Return of the Trillion-Dollar Deficit – by Yosef Stein

In the wee hours of morning on Friday, February 9 – for a period so brief that one could be excused for missing it altogether – our federal government shut down for the second time in a matter of weeks. The shutdown, a brainchild of GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, was engineered in opposition to the bipartisan budget compromise that had been reached earlier in the week by Democratic and Republican leaders and had earned the fervent endorsement of President Donald Trump, a Paul ally. In refusing to allow the budget deal to pass before its midnight deadline, Rand Paul was waging a lonely battle against his own party from the Senate floor, lambasting GOP leadership and rank-and-file alike for supporting an agreement that would send the federal deficit spiraling upwards, drastically increase the size of government, and reverse sequestration – a 2011 legislative product of Washington that imposed strict budget caps on federal spending.

To hear Donald Trump and GOP leaders tell it, the aforementioned budget agreement with Democrats – the very deal that so raised the ire of Senator Rand Paul and several other lonely fiscal conservatives in Congress – was our military’s proverbial knight in shining armor. Immediately after signing the bill, President Trump crowed that “our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We love and need our Military and gave them everything — and more. First time this has happened in a long time.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and numerous other Republican supporters advanced similar sentiments about the righteousness and importance of the budget deal – particularly with regard to Defense Department funding, which the agreement hiked by $165 billion over two years.

In exchange for granting Republicans such a colossal increase in military spending, a Trump administration priority, Democrats demanded a roughly proportional sum of new non-defense spending, resulting in an agreement that allows for $320 billion in brand new spending over the next two years (and a whole lot more in the long term). And all this as Washington is already over $20 trillion in debt, continues to run massive deficits even as the economy thrives, and will see vastly decreased tax revenues as a result of the GOP’s recently-passed tax cut bill. In other words, our politicians in both parties are merrily pushing our nation ever-closer to the brink of fiscal catastrophe by refusing to shrink the size of a government far more bloated than even FDR could have in his wildest dreams conceived of. It is time to dispel with the notion that only one major political party in the US supports big government and fiscal insolvency. Both do. As Rand Paul put it during a lengthy speech on the Senate floor early Friday morning, “If you were against President Obama’s deficits and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” I would add that it is also the definition of lack of principle.

To the minor extent that Washington Republicans acknowledged or addressed the unsavory and counter-conservative nature of several hundred billion dollars in new spending under a new, allegedly conservative president, they justified the distended budget agreement as necessary to secure corresponding hikes in military funding. Proclaimed the president’s Twitter feed, “Without more Republicans in Congress, we were forced to increase spending on things we do not like or want in order to finally, after many years of depletion, take care of our Military. Sadly, we needed some Dem votes for passage. Must elect more Republicans in 2018 Election!”

First of all, this claim does not so much as begin to pass the smell test. In 2011, when Republicans controlled only the House of Representatives and Democrats occupied the White House and the Senate majority, the House GOP, led by then-Speaker John Boehner, negotiated sequestration with Democrats, imposing budget caps that would hold our deficit growth in check for more than six years – until this past Friday. If Republicans were able to curb deficit growth in 2011 with control of only the House, they can certainly do so in 2018 with full control of all levers of government. It’s simply a matter of priorities, and priorities tend to come from the top. Donald Trump may talk a good game, but his administration ultimately did not care enough about our national debt to so much as deem it a minor consideration before full-throatedly embracing Senate leaders’ budgetary eyesore of a bill.

More fundamentally, however, Trump’s efforts to deflect responsibility for Washington’s latest spending spree on the taxpayer dime are insulting to conservative voters’ intelligence. From 2008 to 2010, we were told that if we would only hand Republicans one house of Congress, they could put a stop to the Obama administration’s outrageous fiscal irresponsibility. From 2010 to 2014, Republicans told us that they just needed a Senate majority and big government policies would come to a crashing halt. From 2014 to 2016, we were told that with a Republican president, the GOP would finally fulfill its longtime promise to shrink the ballooning size of government. Now we’re in 2018, and the Republicans are in full control of the federal government. And the president of the United States is telling us that all he needs are “more Republicans,” and we will finally see the bureaucratic “swamp” shrink. It should be painfully obvious at this point that no such reduction will ever actually take place. In fact, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget now projects that the federal government will experience a $1.2 trillion budget shortfall in 2019 alone, a shockingly high total by any measure. We have come to expect this manner of clueless irresponsibility from Washington Democrats, but aren’t Republicans supposed to stand for limited government and reining in the debt? Or are those just fanciful notions of a conservative movement that used to be?

Of course, it can hardly be considered surprising that such a fiscal monstrosity has managed to garner the support of a man as morally bankrupt, intellectually challenged and ideologically unmoored as Donald J. Trump. What should be far more jarring and disconcerting, however, is the similarly nonchalant disregard for both fiscal responsibility and conservative principle that is seeping out of Capitol Hill like a toxic venom poised to snuff out the financial futures of Americans who have yet to so much as be born. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who in 2013 warned a right-wing crowd at the conservative CPAC conference that “the debt will weigh down our country like an anchor,” is now proudly touting a bill that will only exacerbate the divide between America’s revenues and expenditures. For proponents of limited government and stalwarts of fiscal restraint, this agreement is a deeply disappointing development.

It’s time to sound the alarm bells, because it is all too painfully clear that the “party of limited government” isn’t going to sound them for us (let alone do something to curb the unsustainable rise of debt). Republicans are essentially the new Democrats, and Democrats are essentially the new socialists. If you listen carefully enough as our country methodically lurches towards the precipice of fiscal insolvency, you may be able to hear the last echoes of the Reagan Revolution fading away in the distance of the collective American consciousness.

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There are 2 Comments to "2018 and the Return of the Trillion-Dollar Deficit – by Yosef Stein"

  • Proud RINO says:

    Well said. But remember, Trump is a New York Liberal at heart, there is no indication that he has changed his positions. He is against morality, he is for trillion dollar stimulus. The so called “right-wing” talk show hosts love him because he is going against the “establishment,” without realizing that he is more liberal than the establishment. People like Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, even Jeb Bush and McCain are ten times more conservative than Trump. But because of some internal party politics, the Hannity-Limbaugh team would sooner embrace a Conservative-in-Name-Only (or CINO), rather then go with true conservatives (whom they love to label as RINOs).

  • Jethro says:

    The truth is – perhaps inured by the Democrats’ long-running entitlement mantra – the significant majority of nominal Republican voters have expressed both in surveys and in the voting booth that deficit reduction (or even slowing) is not a priority. Even before Trump’s campaign promise not to touch it with a ten-foot pole, entitlement reform had died. And American society on the whole has completely bought into the idea that the government should unlimitedly provide whatever any significant segment of the populace deems necessity, without regard to the (borrowed) costs.

    By the way, the Reagan military build-up was also accompanied by continued growth of the welfare state. We could surmise that with a theoretical Republican Congress he would have resisted, but having suffered a politically damaging recession early in his first term, I’m not so sure he would have wanted to risk the political (and perhaps economic) damage of cutting social programs.

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