Republicans, who in the past have spoken of deficits as hybrids of Frankenstein and Dracula, last week approved a deficit-busting budget. For decades, Republicans have postured as deficit hawks. Last week they showed how bogus their anti-deficit crusade has been all along. What the Republicans really despise is when government spends money on helping people who are not wealthy with things like health care and education instead of using it for big tax cuts for the rich and insane levels of military spending.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, in a marathon speech against his own party’s budget bill, asked how Republicans could decry deficits when Obama was president and deliberately perpetrate them when their man is in the White House and they control both the Senate and the House. It was a good question with no good answer. Rand Paul called it by its name: hypocrisy.
A little honesty from a Republican Senator is refreshing because it is so rare. Truth is scarce commodity under Trump and company. And yet, while Rand Paul spoke a truth, he didn’t speak the whole truth and his comparison of the Obama deficits and Republican deficits was dishonest. It seems Republicans, even Rand Paul the maverick, can’t stop themselves from spouting the Big Lie even when admitting to a small, inconvenient truth.
Rand Paul misleads big time when he equates the Obama deficit (which was forced upon the former president by an economy in a scary free fall) and the future deficit by design just decreed by Republicans despite a growing economy so that they could give huge tax cuts to their party’s ultra-rich donors.
Obama’s deficits were the product of the worst recession since the Great Depression, a legacy of his Republican predecessor. The crash made the deficit, not Obama. As soon as the crisis began to ease, the deficit under Obama decreased.
Obama and his advisers feared that the giant financial institutions that were about to collapse would bring the whole economy down with them. So, he bailed them out. That accounts for a big chunk of the deficit. A bailout had to be done one way or another to avert catastrophe.
[My beef with Obama and the capital-friendly economists he inherited from Clinton is that they failed to use the desperate situation of the financial behemoths to break their backs so they could never again be able to buy politicians and screw consumers. Instead, by making the banks whole at taxpayer expense, the Obama Administration enabled the Wells Fargos and their ilk to once again defraud consumers wholesale and neutralize the consumer watchdog agency created to combat its financial misdeeds.]
Nevertheless, the main point is that when Obama came to power amid the crisis, the deficit had to increase for reasons beyond his or any president’s control. As the recession made unemployment zoom, tax revenues inevitably plummeted while outlays for unemployment insurance grew sharply. The arithmetic is simple: less tax money comes into the Treasury when millions of workers lose their jobs. More tax money goes out to pay for unemployment compensation and to stimulate the economy to stop the hemorrhage of jobs.
The Obama deficits were driven by economic necessity. The Republican deficits under George W. Bush, Donald Trump, and Paul Ryan are deficits of choice, the choice to give more to the haves and to wage ruinous wars.
The cynicism of the Republican Party is evident when it rails against deficits when they are created by Democrats to avert a national calamity caused in the first place by Republican free market dogma and then celebrate victory when they create even bigger deficits to fund imperial arrogance and domestic greed.
Deficits to transfer wealth from the bottom 90 percent the top 10 percent are fine with Republicans. Deficits to give people life-saving access to health care, food stamps so they can eat, and public education so they can work and be productive, are anathema to the GOP. Deficits to pay military contractors to produce enough weapons to destroy civilization many times over are more than OK with Republicans too.
Republican rhetoric about the deficit has always been so much BS. Standard economic theory holds that deficits are necessary and useful when the economy is going badly and inflation is low. Deficits should be avoided when the economy is good to prevent inflation.
Rand Paul’s pseudo-honesty ignores an insight from medicine that can be applied to the economy. The over-prescription of antibiotics to treat things like the common cold is to be avoided. Antibiotics don’t cure colds and have side effects, and rampant antibiotics cause the evolution of very dangerous new bugs immune to antibiotics. On the other hand, every doctor must and would prescribe antibiotics for a patient with bacterial pneumonia and a fever of 104 degrees. Like antibiotics, even big deficits are necessary during emergencies like wars and recessions. Big deficits are counterproductive when the economy is humming along.
Republicans decry necessary deficits and embrace unnecessary ones. It’s merely one facet of their pervasive perversity. Most of them profess to be Christian but few have seen a rich person they wouldn’t want to give more to or a poor one they wouldn’t think of as undeserving of help. The rich are virtuous and industrious. The poor are lazy and immoral. It’s a curious Christianity rooted in a Calvinist Protestantism of self-denial, but with a convenient twist: austerity not for oneself as in original Calvinism but austerity for others, those who are not of the Elect and who, in the words of Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly (speaking about DACA-eligible immigrants who didn’t register, probably out of fear of exactly what is happening now), are too lazy to get their butts off the couch to help themselves.