GOP Deficit Hawkery Dies in the Dark of Night

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House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows among those who talked tough about spending and deficits but is now going along with a budget that just cuts taxes with no concern for the consequences. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Those with long memories may recall that House Republicans spent a good part of the spring and early summer trying to decide whether to try to pass massive, unprecedented domestic-spending cuts, or just scary-large domestic-spending cuts, as part of their fiscal year 2018 budget resolution. At the same time, they struggled with whether the same document should cut long-term budget deficits, or just prevent increases in the budget deficit.

Finally, in July, the House Budget Committee released a compromise budget resolution that instructed authorizing committees to cut “only” $203 billion in “mandatory spending” (i.e., “entitlement” programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP) and bring the budget into balance within ten years. The House Freedom Caucus squawked that it didn’t cut domestic spending nearly enough. In the end, just a few weeks ago, the House did pass this resolution, amid tough talk of resistance to the Senate’s lily-livered RINO unwillingness to cut spending or hold the line on the deficit.

But all the GOP deficit-hawkery that reigned during the Obama presidency and early in the Trump presidency vanished literally overnight, as the House leadership agreed to surrender to the Senate budget resolution’s abandonment of both spending cuts and deficit neutrality. Under a late-night amendment that Senate Budget Committee chairman Mike Enzi offered with Paul Ryan’s blessings, the House will be able to skip a House-Senate conference committee and go straight to a quick vote to rubber-stamp the Senate’s handiwork. And that will include a minimum $1.5 trillion boost in the budget deficit and no major spending cuts. Indeed, the big concession House conservatives appear to have gotten from the Senate is an understanding that the GOP will later pursue a suspension of spending “caps” in order to boost defense spending. Such tough guys!

Will the House Freedom Caucus and other alleged deficit hawks really go along with this screw-the-budget approach? Sure looks like it. They are reportedly the main advocates of speedy House action on the Senate resolution, presumably to cover their retreat.

What happened? It seems that the monomaniacal obsession of Republican politicians and donors with tax cuts, and the growing likelihood that Congress will struggle to enact a package that can command a majority in both Houses, convinced conservatives to get rid of any other goals that might complicate the process. Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows sure isn’t talking about anything else:

If past behavior is any indication, before long we will hear Republicans justify their tax-cutting, deficit-ignoring conduct with a new iteration of the infamous “starve the beast” theory: that by cutting taxes, they are increasing the pressure for future spending cuts which fortunately for them they need not identify at the moment. They will also, of course, repeat the familiar if discredited claim that the enormous, historic growth their tax cuts will unleash is certain to boost revenues in a way that is sure to cancel most if not all the negative implications for the budget deficit.

More-honest Republicans might finally admit once and for all that in their hierarchy of values, fiscal restraint and deficit and debt reduction rank very low whenever they come into conflict with the root conservative belief that both justice and prosperity are served by letting markets determine the distribution of wealth, with minimal interference from government and minimal deference to millennia of religious and ethical condemnations of economic inequality. Next time they claim otherwise, the rest of us should just laugh.

GOP Deficit Hawkery Dies in the Dark of Night