WASHINGTON: Republican legacy has always been conservative. Indeed, Republicans always used to present themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. They repeatedly criticized Democrats for expanding the role of government, resulting in huge deficits. Many Republicans, over the years, endorsed an amendment to the Constitution mandating balanced budgets.
Yet now, when Republicans control the White House and both branches of Congress, they seem to have abandoned that position. Traditional conservatives who believed the party’s commitment to this principle are seeing another example of the strange bedfellows’ politics produces.
To begin with, Consider what the Republicans have done in the past year.
Departing from the “pay as you go” Republican philosophy
Congress has decided to cut taxes and boost spending at the same time. This is a radical departure from the Republican stated philosophy of “pay as you go.”
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF,) this policy has brought the U.S. to new heights in terms of debt. They say U.S. gross debt-to-GDP ratio will be much greater than other countries of similar economic systems in five years.
“For advanced economies, debt ratios will be declining in almost all,” says Vitor Gaspar, director of IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department. “But one country stands out as an exception.”
Recent tax cuts and the budget agreement will swell U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio from 108% in 2018 to 117% in 2023. The IMF predicts the debt-to-GDP ratios of fiscally similar countries to decline or remain flat over the same time period.
The 2020 Skyrocketing National Debt
In a word, our deficit will surpass $1 trillion per year in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“The federal budget deficit grows substantially over the next several years,” said CBO Budget Director Keith Hall. “Federal debt is projected to be on a steadily rising trajectory throughout the decade.”
The CBO reported that from 2021 to 2028, deficits will average 4.9 percent of the total American economy. That is higher than at any point since World War II, other than during the recession in 2008 and 2009.
Consequently, Conservative economists are in dismay over the Republican embrace of huge deficits and public debt.
Economist view of public debt burdens
A group of economists at the Hoover Institution, Michael J. Boskin, John F. Cochrane, John F. Cogan, George P. Schultz, and John B. Taylor, issued a statement noting:
“For years, economists have warned of major increases in future public debt burdens. That future is on our doorstep. From this point onward, even if economic growth continues uninterrupted, current tax and spending patterns imply that annual deficits will steadily increase, approaching the $1 trillion mark in two years and steadily rising thereafter as far as the eye can see. The outstanding public debt will reach $20 trillion a scant five years from now. That amounts to a quarter of a million dollars for a family of four, more than twice the median household wealth.”
Moreover, many Republicans are quietly unhappy with the path their party is now taking. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) says,
“You know there are a lot of discussions about the fact that maybe the Republican Party has lost its soul…Had the 2016 election gone a different way and we had a Democratic president, and we controlled the House and Senate, I can’t imagine us being in a situation where we would vote, for a bill that’s going to add $2 trillion in debt.”
Conservative Challenge to budget deficits
Without a doubt, more and more conservatives are challenging the Republican embrace of huge budget deficits.
The Heritage Foundation notes that the budget bill,
“…provides an additional $63 billion in funding above the Budget Control Act caps for domestic spending. This increase is unwarranted. There are numerous wasteful, inefficient and misguided programs that could be cut or eliminated entirely.”
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas writes that,
“This is not what voters expected from the 2016 election. There is always an excuse for additional spending. And it is almost always based on lies and the failure of too many members to put American citizens first and their own careers second. The stock market reacted to this and other bad monetary news by shedding 1,400 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Mr. Trump has been bragging about recent record highs in the market. It appears his bragging days are over for now. There is little in this bill to brag about other than shoring up the military. All of the other misspending would be shameful if Washington politicians knew how to feel shame.”
The lesson of deficit spending
The Republican Party can hardly keep telling Americans, unlike the Democrats, it stands for fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. What the party now stands for, if it is anything more than holding and wielding power, is less than clear.
Donald Trump ran for president pledging to “Make America Great Again.”
Now he and his fellow Republicans must explain to us, will this take place with the hugest deficits in our history? Indeed, it is not without good reason that Americans are skeptical of their politicians. Furthermore, the Republican legacy of deficit spending and record-breaking debt should be a lesson for all of us.
Conservatives used to be suspicious of government power.
They cited Thomas Jefferson who admonished the natural tendency for democracy is for “government to grow and freedom to diminish.” They looked at what happened to Athens and to the Roman Republic and tried to learn from their example.
With this in mind, the Constitution sought to limit government power and divide it into three equal branches.
Congress, for example, has the power to declare war. Yet, over the years, the power of the executive has grown, under both Democrats and Republicans. Congress never declared war in Korea, Vietnam or Iraq.
However, the president now talks of possible war with Iran, North Korea, and Syria, as if it was his decision alone.
Given our budget deficit and record-breaking debt, Republicans seem to have abandoned even their promises believed and trusted by conservatives.
To be sure, it is difficult to maintain that position today.