Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The devil is in the deficit - and his GOPlins are coming after your Social Security and Medicare

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) exposes what the Republicans don’t want you to know about how they plan to pay for their deficits: GOP rhetoric about the deficit becomes a punch-line to an awkward joke.

First, consider Benen’s chart showing deficits by year by party in the White House. “Red columns point to Republican administrations, blue columns point to Democratic administrations, and red-and-blue columns point to years in which the fiscal year was split between presidents from two different parties.”

Deficits - year x party

Here are some take-aways from those data. Reagan ran a deficit as did Bush 1. Clinton actually ended up running a surplus. Bush 2 cranked up the deficit. Obama, after the stimulus to counter the great recession, gradually reduced the deficit. Under Trump, due to his tax breaks, the deficit increased and is increasing. Benen tells us how the Republicans are planning to pay for such excess.

As recently as June, Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House’s National Economic Council, boasted to a national television audience the U.S. budget deficit “is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.”

Yeah, about that….

The U.S. government ran its largest budget deficit in six years during the fiscal year that ended last month, an unusual development in a fast-growing economy and a sign that – so far at least – tax cuts have restrained government revenue gains.

The deficit totaled $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 17% from $666 billion in fiscal 2017, the Treasury Department said Monday. The deficit is headed toward $1 trillion in the current fiscal year, the White House and Congressional Budget Office said.

This deficit is the fifth largest in modern American history – in non-inflation adjusted terms – and it now stands at 3.9% of GDP, up from 3.5% a year ago.

To be sure, as a percentage of the economy, the deficit isn’t necessarily at a level that should cause significant concern. The trouble is the broader context:

Circling back to our previous coverage, there are a few key angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that Donald Trump’s campaign assurances about balancing the budget and eliminating the national debt should be near the top of the list of his broken promises.

Second, it’s now painfully obvious that the Republican Party, which spent the Obama era pretending to care deeply about fiscal responsibility and the terrible burdens deficits place on future generations, operated in bad faith.

And third, every Republican who said the GOP tax breaks for the wealthy would pay for themselves ought to face some renewed questioning about how very wrong they were.

As we discussed several months ago, I should emphasize that I’m not a deficit hawk, and I firmly believe that larger deficits, under some circumstances, are absolutely worthwhile and necessary. [Scriber agrees.]

These are not, however, those circumstances. When the economy is in trouble, it makes sense for the United States to borrow more, invest more, cushion the blow, and help strengthen the economy.

The Trump White House and the Republican-led Congress, however, decided to approve massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations when the economy was already healthy – not because they were addressing a policy need, but because they were fulfilling an ideological goal.

Economic growth is healthy and unemployment is quite low. This is exactly when we should see the deficit shrinking. Instead, it’s growing – and it’s on track to keep growing in the coming years.

Worse, now that the deficit is spiraling, those same Republicans who pretended to care about “fiscal responsibility” have decided that what the nation really needs is more tax breaks – none of which will be paid for – and cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Given how close we are to the midterm elections, GOP officials and candidates will have to hope voters don’t hear about this.

One of those leaders is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a companion piece, McConnell eyes cuts to Medicare, Social Security to address deficit, Benen thinks rhetoric about “entitlements” has become quite serious. To Scriber all this sounds typical Republican: spend the public money on yourself and then complain that there is no money to run the government. In other words, they are starving the beast. The thing is, the “beast” is you and me.

Take a wild guess what McConnell told Bloomberg News he wants to do about [the soaring deficit].

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

He added that he believes “Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid” funding constitutes “the real driver of the debt.”

… it’s important to understand that we already know it’s the Republicans’ tax breaks for the rich that have made the deficit vastly larger. When McConnell calls the increased federal borrowing “very disturbing,” as he did this morning, it’s like watching an arsonist wring his hands over the ashes he created.

… During the debate over the Republican tax package, Democrats made a fairly obvious prediction: GOP policymakers would blow a giant hole in the budget and then use the shortfall as an excuse to target social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security (often referred to as “entitlements”).

That is, of course, exactly what’s happening.

But looking past Trump’s bizarre nonsense [about the GOP saving social insurance programs], leading Republican officials – from the White House, the Senate, and the U.S. House – keep admitting that they’re eager to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security. Maybe the public should believe them.

So now you know what the GOPlins are up to but don’t want to admit to.

Be worried.

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