WASHINGTON ― Republicans are learning to love deficits and debt again, now that they are in power.
The $1.3 trillion budget package congressional leaders unveiled this week would boost spending to defense and domestic programs, and balloon the deficit. It’s a huge win for lawmakers of both parties and a bit of a setback for President Donald Trump, whose draconian spending proposals were largely ignored by Congress.
Republicans on Thursday touted new funding for the military, upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure system, and money to fight the growing opioid epidemic. The spending spree follows another budget buster ― their $1.5 trillion unpaid tax cut.
The splurge sets a drastically different tone for a party that not long ago professed to be extremely worried about the budget deficit, whose members screamed about a looming fiscal apocalypse and demanded dollar-for-dollar cuts in exchange for proposed spending increases by former President Barack Obama.
“If we don’t begin to deal with our debt and deficit in a serious way, we’re not going to have many options,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned in 2012, during one debt ceiling showdown. “I’m not going to apologize for leading. The real issue here is, will the president lead?”
Boehner’s successor as speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), became the poster boy for fiscal conservatism at the time. As chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, Ryan crusaded around Washington with charts and PowerPoint presentations, saying the nation was at a “tipping point” because of its debt.
“The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead,” Ryan said in a 2011 response to Obama’s State of the Union speech. “On this current path, when my three children ― who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old ― are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.”
When Republicans are in power, they spend. When they are out of power, they harp about deficits and debt. It’s a strategy they have shamelessly executed with success over the course of several presidencies. During George W. Bush’s administration, for example, Republicans ran up the national credit card with two unpaid wars, two tax cuts, and a huge expansion of Medicare. And, it’s a tactic they’ll likely use in the future if Democrats succeed in clawing their way back into power ― by claiming the need to cut spending on entitlements and welfare programs.
The Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative group focused on cutting spending and taxes that has gone largely ignored during Trump’s presidency, urged lawmakers not to support the spending bill.
“It’s hard to see how any member of Congress ― liberal or conservative ― can vote on this 2,232-page deal less than 24 hours after the contents were made public,” the group said in a statement. “On top of that, this monster proposal simply fulfills the budget-busting deal that GOP leaders made with the Democrats last month. Voting for it would only affirm one’s support for permanent trillion-dollar deficits.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) similarly derided the budget deal and the rush to push the bill through Congress.