No, the GOP Doesn’t Really Care About Spending and Debts

Andrew Sullivan finds another example showing how phony the Republicans’ alleged concerns about spending and debt clearly are. They suddenly discover the cause of fiscal responsibility when a Democrat is in the White House, but even that convenient epiphany magically disappears when it’s time to go to war, when they grab the pom poms and start cheering.

It’s been a remarkable aspect of the foreign policy “debate” over the last month that I haven’t heard a single leading Republican express misgivings about a new Iraq war’s impact on fiscal policy. And yet, for a few years now, we have been subjected to endless drama about the mounting debt when it comes to anything the government wants to do. Cost was one (ludicrous) reason to oppose Obamacare; it’s behind cutting off 3 million long-term unemployed from any benefits; it has led to proposals to turn Medicare into a premium support system and for cutting social security. Some of this fiscal vigilance I find useful – if it weren’t so transparently a way to dodge GOP responsibility for the debt and to blame Obama for all of it and if it weren’t raised as a matter of urgency when the world economy was deeply depressed (the one time when fiscal lenience is warranted). But it is hard to resist the conclusion, after the last few weeks, that it’s all a self-serving charade.

I mean: where are the fiscal conservatives now? The ISIS campaign is utterly amorphous and open-ended at this point – exactly the kind of potentially crippling government program Republicans usually want to slash. It could last more than three years (and that’s what they’re saying at then outset); the cost is estimated by some to be around $15 billion a year, but no one really knows. The last phase of the same war cost, when all was said and done, something close to $1.5 trillion – and our current travails prove that this was one government program that clearly failed to achieve its core original objectives, and vastly exceeded its original projected costs.

If this were a massive $1.5 trillion infrastructure project for the homeland, we’d be having hearing after hearing on how ineffective and crony-ridden it is; there would be government reports on its cost-benefit balance; there would be calls to end it tout court. But a massive government program that can be seen as a form of welfare dependency for the actual countries – Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Kurdistan – facing the crisis gets almost no scrutiny at all. And what scrutiny it gets is entirely due to partisanship and the desire to portray this president as effectively useless.

Bingo. Not a single Republican raised any concerns at all about going to war in Iraq while cutting taxes, which could only explode the deficit (and did exactly that). Faced with an obvious contradiction between those two positions (always cheer for war and always push for tax cuts), they simply ignored it and went for both because they had the votes to do so.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • raven

    The Democrats tax and spend.

    The GOP doesn’t tax and spends wildly.

    As noted economist and Sith Lord, Darth Cheney stated, “Deficits don’t matter.”

    It works like you expect. They balloon the annual deficits and National Debt. We are still recovering from Bush’s tax cuts and Great Recession.

  • eric

    …and the title of this article could’ve been posted in any year since 1980…

  • Akira MacKenzie

    The fact that the Rethugs opposed the ACA despite it’s Mitt Romney origins didn’t tip you off?

  • raven

    United States Government Debt to GDP | 1940-2014 | Data …

    www .tradingeconomics. com/united-states/government-debt-to-gdp

    The United States recorded a Government Debt to GDP of 101.53 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2013. Government Debt To GDP in the …

    Thanks to the fraud and incompetence of Rogoff and Reinhart, we have no idea how much debt is too much debt for a nation.

    As of now it is 102% of GDP, historically high by US and world standards.

    Oddly enough, so far it hasn’t had any visible effect on our economy. No one knows why either. Perhaps it is because interest rates are very low and the interest on this debt isn’t much.

    Most guesses are that 102% of GDP is getting up into danger territory but no one knows. Unfortunately, the only way we have to discover how much is too much is wait until something unfavorable happens.

  • Randydeluxe

    There have always been three categories of items which are exempt from the conservative doctrine on small government. Big, inefficient, wasteful, abusive government is perfectly fine by conservatives as long as it is:

    -Making war, preferably in places where the locals are brown.

    -Making life difficult for women, gay men, and transsexuals, especially when they have dirty sex.

    -Making life easier for billionaire polluters.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.vogel2 drewvogel

    I enjoy reveling in the hypocrisy of the GOP as much as the next guy. Probably more than most. But the Democrats don’t have this right either. The whole conversation about budgets, deficits, debts, taxing and spending, all that stuff… it’s all based on certain tacit assumptions which are not (or are no longer) true. The clearest example of this is the old chestnut that the government budget is just like an ordinary household budget. The US government has the exclusive legal right to create dollars at will. Households don’t have that, and that difference matters.

    This is kind of a hobby horse of mine, so I’m liable to drone on and on about it, and I don’t want to do that. But I do think it’s an issue that politically-minded skeptics, on the left and the right, should look into. There’s a small school of heterodox economics known as Monetary Monetary Theory that I hope interested skeptics will investigate with an open mind.

    http://neweconomicperspectives.org/

  • Michael Heath

    eric writes:

    the title of this article could’ve been posted in any year since 1980…

    Wildly untrue. The GOP did sign off on budgets in the mid-1980s that raised taxes in order to reduce the deficit. Ed repeatedly links to videos or written statements by President Reagan promoting this to compare the actual Reagan to the demi-god Reagan. The real Reagan even promoted protection of lower tax rates for those with less income vs. those with higher income, which again Ed’s linked to in the past.

    Today’s Republicans are in way fiscal conservatives, nor where they during the W. Bush years. And in the mid-1980s, they preferred cutting spending to raising taxes. But raise taxes they did when prioritized reduction of the debt over lowering the effective tax rate.

  • Michael Heath

    Randydeluxe writes:

    There have always been three categories of items which are exempt from the conservative doctrine on small government. Big, inefficient, wasteful, abusive government is perfectly fine by conservatives as long as it is:

    -Making war, preferably in places where the locals are brown.

    -Making life difficult for women, gay men, and transsexuals, especially when they have dirty sex.

    -Making life easier for billionaire polluters.

    They’ve also demonstrated their fine with big government spending at the federal level when they’re in power, i.e., the W. Bush years.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    This is a non-story. It’s fine. War, like tax cuts, pays for itself. And just think of all the jobs created! Government can work!

     

    Michael Heath “They’ve also demonstrated their fine with big government spending at the federal level when they’re in power, i.e., the W. Bush years.”

    Well, sure, they spent. But at least they didn’t pay for it!

  • abb3w

    I’m afraid this doesn’t deserve so much a cost-benefit analysis, but a cost-cost analysis — comparing the costs of inaction to the costs of action, as this looks like a lose-lose Catch-22.

  • Sideshow Bill

    Once ISIS went after Christians, lots of my wingnut friends started screaming that we had to do something! Anything! Until the Bombing started, then it was, “Obama isn’t doing enough!” I asked if they were willing to pay more in taxes to finance the “adventure.” Of course no one answered that one.

  • eric

    Raven:

    As of now it is 102% of GDP, historically high by US and world standards.

    Oddly enough, so far it hasn’t had any visible effect on our economy. No one knows why either. Perhaps it is because interest rates are very low and the interest on this debt isn’t much.

    As a homeowner in an urban/suburban area, my debt is currently 300-400% of my GDP. But nobody – not the banks who have loaned me money, other lenders, anyone – considers that an economic problem or risk. Despite that debt (and in part, because of it) my credit rating is high and I am considered a very low risk loan investment. The real risk that potential lenders care about is associated with my GDP related to my yearly or monthly expenses – my “deficit.” That’s what they look at. Contries are not individuals, of course, but my point is that that ‘102%’ statistic is meaningless without an understanding of whether such a debt poses a risk of economic failure/collapse or not. AFAIK, it does not. As you allude to, as long as the annual payments on this debt is something we can handle, its not likely to be perceived as a problem.

    Heath:

    The GOP did sign off on budgets in the mid-1980s that raised taxes in order to reduce the deficit. Ed repeatedly links to videos or written statements by President Reagan promoting this to compare the actual Reagan to the demi-god Reagan.

    In 1981 he reduced the top income tax bracket rate from 70% to 50%, and then he reduced it again to 28% in 1986. He reduced capital gains tax to its lowest rate since 1933. At the same time he eliminated and simplified many tax write-offs primarily used by those in lower tax brackets, in effect raising their rates. In terms of personal income taxes, his policies were probably the most regressive enacted in the modern era; certainly nobody since him has come anywhere close to cutting the personal income taxes of the rich by 60% (from 70% to 28%). Granted, he also resided over some ‘bounce back’ – i.e., a re-raising of tax rates that he had lowered, particularly the capital gains rate – but giving him credit for “raising taxes” in that way is a bit silly, don’t you think? He did it as a compromise with Democrats, it certainly wasn’t his objective or choice.

    Under him, debt as a share of GDP increased from 28% to 40%. Deficits also greatly increased. AFAIK, both conservative AND liberal economists accept this as an accurate description of what happened in terms of dollars, they only disagree on whether the Reagan deficit increase was economically problematical or not (liberals say yes, conservatives say no. With Cheney having one of the more famous quotes – “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”)

    I agree with you that the real Ronnie was not much like the icon the current right portrays him to be, and that he was far more moderate than many on the right today. However, he was firmly in the GOP camp of reducing taxes overall (and mostly reducing them for businesses and rich people) while increasing spending (mostly military) overall, and whether he wanted to increase the debt or thought that was a bad thing, his policies certainly had that effect.

  • raven

    but my point is that that ‘102%’ statistic is meaningless without an understanding of whether such a debt poses a risk of economic failure/collapse or not. AFAIK, it does not.

    So far that 102% Debt hasn’t been a problem. It might have prevented us from doing more to end the Great Recession though, by increasing deficit spending like Keynes wanted to do. Bush’s tax cuts during good times left us with no tools and methods to deal with the bad times.

    What people are worrying about right now isn’t 102%. It is what it ultimately will end up being. Sure, we can handle 102% right now. How about 150%. Or 200% debt to GDP.

    No one really knows how high is too high. And we really shouldn’t have to find this out the hard way.

  • eric

    How about 150%. Or 200% debt to GDP.

    I’ll be ecstatic when my debt goes that low. It probably means I’m within 5-7 years of paying off my mortgage.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    If the debt is like a family budget, then, following the Republican example, after getting a mortgage I did everything possible to slow or stop the growth of my family’s GDP, supported only the programs that provide the least cost-effective Job Creation (like new Super Soakers and a boat we never use in addition to the boat we already have that we rarely use), and obstructed even plans that we used to agree on (like maintaining the driveway or kids eating, for example). When the theoretical wife lost her job, I cut her off, and started referring to her as a Moocher. While the theoretical sons still have to mow the yard, clip the hedges, and take out the trash, I’ve cut off their fuel and tool subsidies, as well as the program where I taught them what to do. I mean, come on! I’m not a Social Safety Hammock!

    Since this thus far hasn’t worked (thanks Obama!), I’m taking the next step and turning down that promotion at work. Plus I’m buying another boat.

  • laurentweppe

    Andrew Sullivan finds another example showing how phony the Republicans’ alleged concerns about spending and debt clearly are

    The good news for right-wingers is that their own electorate doesn’t give a shit about spending and debts either, and won’t stop voting for them no matter how many evidence of duplicity on this accumulate.

  • eric

    If the debt is like a family budget, then, following the Republican example…

    …you first decided not to pay for your electricity but demanded it be kept on. Then you spent $60,000 of your $40,000 income on guns and ammo.

  • D. C. Sessions

    The good news for right-wingers is that their own electorate doesn’t give a shit about spending and debts either, and won’t stop voting for them no matter how many evidence of duplicity on this accumulate.

    That hypothesis is being tested this year in Kansas.

  • raven

    The good news for right-wingers is that their own electorate doesn’t give a shit about spending and debts either, and won’t stop voting for them no matter how many evidence of duplicity on this accumulate.

    That hypothesis is being tested this year in Kansas.

    The Brownback mini-Disaster of Laffer style supply side economics. Scott Walker did the same thing to Wisconsin.

    Democrat Widens Lead To 8 Points Over Republican Sam …

    www .politicususa. com/2014/…/democrat-widens-lead-8-points-republica…

    Saturday, September 06, 2014 … Friday, July, 25th, 2014, 12:52 pm … After all, Kansas is one of the most conservative states in the Union. … Due to huge tax cuts that Brownback pushed through once he took office in 2011, the … With the state running such a large budget deficit, basic services within the state have been cut.

    Brownback cut taxes on the rich, skewed the tax burden to the poor and middle class. The result has been huge deficits resulting in cuts to education and social services. The promised jobs never showed up either.

  • raven

    Anyone in or near Kansas.

    We don’t hear much about that state out here.

    All accounts are that Brownback has been a disaster. The schools especially have been hit hard.

    In the midwest, there has been a steady rural flight of people to the cities. A lot of small towns are well on their way to being ghost towns. One of the last things to go is the school, right before the post office. If the small towns lose their school to budget problems, which happens a lot, they are pretty much gone.

  • raven

    One of the last things to go is the school, right before the post office. If the small towns lose their school to budget problems, which happens a lot, they are pretty much gone.

    I’ve seen this myself and more than once.

    Half my relatives used to live in the upper midwest. They’ve all moved, along with many others. Their town has a program to buy up abandoned houses for almost nothing. They then tear them down. This is to keep the town from looking like a ghost town and it does work. Except there are a lot of vacant lots that you can buy for small change. I suspect if you wanted to build a house, they would probably give you one.

    What they do to the schools is consolidate the districts. So what few kids there are ride in buses or vans for hours sometimes.

  • laurentweppe
    The good news for right-wingers is that their own electorate doesn’t give a shit about spending and debts either, and won’t stop voting for them no matter how many evidence of duplicity on this accumulate.

    That hypothesis is being tested this year in Kansas.

    The fact that right-wing voters won’t stop voting for their lords and masters’ mouthpieces doesn’t mean that their policies won’t piss off everyone else sufficiently to increase their mobilization and crush the wingnuts in the ballot box.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    The good news for right-wingers is that their own electorate doesn’t give a shit about spending and debts either, and won’t stop voting for them no matter how many evidence of duplicity on this accumulate.

    I don’t much care what the true believers do. I just wish the media would stop aping the Republican narrative of them being the fiscally responsible party. It’s so wildly, empirically untrue that even the media’s lame attempts to appear above the fray are no longer an excuse. It should have been impossible since Obama was elected for any Republican to whine about the deficit without the interviewer immediately stopping everything and forcing him to explain why, if he thinks the deficit is so bad, his party deliberately created the vast majority of it.

  • mildlymagnificent

    The clearest example of this is the old chestnut that the government budget is just like an ordinary household budget. The US government has the exclusive legal right to create dollars at will.

    Oh, there’s a lot more to it than that. Governments have choices about how and where they spend their money so that spending can result in more income than they spend in the first place. Households can’t do that.

    When we pay for our utilities and groceries or give the kids their pocket money out of our incomes, we have no way of ensuring that the money will come back to us in any way. OTOH, governments can choose expenditures that will come back to their own, or local/regional governments, in a few or many ways or they can choose expenditures that are exactly like household expenses – paid out and lost largely forever.

    When governments give additional cash to impoverished households or businesses, that money will be spent entirely, immediately and almost completely locally. And those funds will get into the hands of traders, and a lot of it will attract sales taxes of various kinds, or others who will pay it further into the hands of yet others, who will pay taxes on it or whose government subsidies and other payments will reduce by some or all of the amount in question. Even though some of that money will finish up in the hands of people who may save some or all of it and thus take it out of circulation – and therefore out of the taxing cycle – most of it will be repeatedly taxed or accounted as a reduction in other government outlays in each further transaction it facilitates.

    Or a government can choose to put the same amount into the hands of organisations, contractors, cronies, individuals who will most likely squirrel it away or spend it anywhere except where it would do their local/regional/national economy the most good. And lose all of it in much the same way as households do when they give pocket money to their kids.

  • lorn

    The dept and cutting taxes were always alternating levers to work back and forth with the intention of bankrupting the federal government. The intention was, from the start, to roll back the Great Society and New Deal programs that were implemented to take the rough edges off unregulated capitalism and as concessions to labor to keep the poor from favoring the Communist party. Capitalism, essentially at the point of a gun, was reined in under Teddy Roosevelt and systematically forced to make concessions under FDR. By adopting certain watered down versions of Bolshevik policies, what is now considered the social welfare state, the poor were kept from violently overthrowing the capitalist system.

    When Reagan got into office the accepted view was that the USSR and China were no longer serious threats and that the concessions made under the New Deal, antitrust legislation, regulation on banking and industry, and the Great Society could be taken back. Where were the poor going to go? They would take the working and living conditions offered to them, or die. The poor would learn to live under the rules decided by wealth and power as they always had before the class traitor Roosevelts interfered with the natural order of things.

    Of course, the neocons could very well sell their policy if it was properly labeled so they set up a series of intermediary steps and crises to shock people to allow the necessary changes. The two drums were variations on two simple themes; cut taxes to free the economy, and spend money to keep the monsters at bay. The desired end result was always the same: An image of Uncle Sam holding his empty pockets out and tearfully telling the poor that they are on their own and that if they want to eat regularly and sleep indoors they will have to dance their jig to the rich man’s tune because the nation is broke.

    It was pictured as a rich man’s paradise. The wealthy could collude all they wanted while labor would always have to negotiate as an individual with high unemployment reminding him that failure to capitulate meant trusting in a social safety net that is more hole than net. Low wages, poor work conditions and workers motivated to work hard because their lives depend on staying employed would keep both profits and productivity high. Business would see a new golden age.

    And it damn near worked out that way, for a time, kind of. Workers worked harder, put in more hours, often unpaid hours for less pay and an ever dwindling benefits package. Remember when most jobs had vacation days and health benefits? When sick days and defined retirement plans were the norm? Workers took on more for less pay and profits soared.

    But the fact is that the majority of profits come from consumer spending and the majority of consumer spending comes from the middle class. Failure to cultivate and look after the interests of the middle class have stifled retail sales. The nation is awash in retail outlets selling things most people can’t afford. Malls and strip malls are closing for lack of customers. Walmart is showing signs of failure:

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2014/02/02/could-wal-mart-be-the-next-giant-failure-in-retail.aspx

    And it isn’t alone:

    http://www.thedeal.com/content/consumer-retail/foundering-retailers-drag-malls-into-a-failure-vortex.php

    Of course the GOP has an answer, war. A major war, not to be confused with the piddling little ones we are messing around in right now, would temporarily pump up the economy but what happens if they hold a way and the poor don’t sign up? The GOP is running out of cards. Even rural America is tired of sending their kids off to war, and the one good thing about the Southern Strategy is that it has effectively immunized a lot of people to the worse of racial and rural versus urban scare tactics.

    The New Deal was sold to the wealthy elites as an alternative to a massive uprising and a necessary concession for the good of the nation at the time. The wealthy re-framed it as charity. If the right loses big in the near future there will be no claims of charity or characterizing the necessary social programs as temporary stopgaps. They will be chosen simply because they are right and good for the nation. And if they happen to help to avoid an uprising, and benefit the wealthy indirectly, then so be it.

  • laurentweppe

    what happens if they hold a way and the poor don’t sign up?

    What do you thing fascism is? You deputize street thugs, turn them into a warrior caste dedicated to protect the ruling class from the plebs and through displays of gratuitous cruelty make sure that the commons are convinced that their lords and masters would rather burn their own country to the ground and starve to death on top of their rebellious subjects’ corpses rather than forsake their undue privileges.