March 18, 2019

We Should All Be Deficit Hypocrites

“Barack Obama is dumbfounded. The Republicans harangued him for eight straight years over the federal budget deficit. Now, under President Trump, the deficit is skyrocketing—with nary a peep from the GOP. “This is supposed to be the party, supposedly, of fiscal conservatism,” he said in a speech in September. “Suddenly deficits do not matter, even though just two years ago, when the deficit was lower, they said I couldn’t afford to help working families or seniors on Medicare because the deficit was an existential crisis. What changed?”

The former president is not naive; he knows the answer. What changed was that Republicans, having swept the 2016 election, now fully control the government’s purse strings. By the end of Trump’s first year, the Republicans jacked the military’s budget by $80 billion and approved a $1.5 trillion tax cut. So it was no surprise when the Treasury Department reported last week that the deficit rose 77 percent in the first quarter of the fiscal year over the same period the previous year. This week, in its latest budget proposal, the White House had the gall to warn that we “must protect future generations from Washington’s habitual deficit spending,” but nonetheless projected the deficit would rise substantially over the next three years.

The question many are asking is whether the GOP’s about-face matters, politically speaking. As recent headline in The Week put it, “Will Republicans’ deficit hypocrisy haunt them this year?” The White House is confident that it won’t. Trump’s acting chief of staff, former Congressman Mick Mulvaney, spent years ripping Obama about the deficit. Asked recently why Trump’s 2019 State of the Union didn’t mention the deficit, he replied, “Nobody cares.””

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