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Don’t Abet Republican Bad Faith On Deficits

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One hopes that Republican bad faith on deficits has become so egregious that even Democratic elites are starting to figure it out:

In 2012, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the budget deficit “the nation’s most serious long-term problem.” That same year, House Speaker Paul Ryan called it a “serious threat” to the economy. They were full of it.

Not just in the narrow sense that they both went on to enthusiastically endorse a $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017 a tax cut that the Congressional Budget Office says did little to boost the economy but a great deal to boost payouts to rich shareholders. Nor even in the somewhat broader sense that the real cost of that tax cut is much higher than $1.5 trillion when you consider the various accounting gimmicks and bad-faith phaseouts.

Even under the weird linguistic conventions of American conservative politics where deficits caused by tax cuts don’t count as real deficits, this week’s budget deal — a big, multibillion-dollar increase in military spending “offset” by a nearly as large increase in nonmilitary spending — gives up the game entirely. Republicans don’t care, on any level, about the size of the federal deficit.

In some ways, this is healthy since deficit alarmism was never a good idea. Interest rates have been perpetually low, and there is zero sign that either Obama’s deficits or Trump’s have “crowded out” any kind of useful economic activity. But it’s critical for everyone else to learn this lesson, since millions of people suffered years of unnecessary unemployment due to bad-faith deficit hawkery. Republicans, meanwhile, won’t always be in the White House, and when they pirouette on this topic again, it’s critically important that they not be listened to.

Democrats gain absolutely nothing from focusing on deficit reduction, since any gains will simply be used by the next Republican government for more upper-class tax cuts. Dems don’t need to be as fiscally irresponsible as Republicans, but the next time they get the chance to govern they need to focus on making their programs as popular and as durable as possible, and if that means not accounting for every dime of spending that’s fine. And while there’s probably no avoiding a lot of the political press “remembering” that deficits are the most important issue ever the next time Dems control the government, Democratic elites can at least give the Charles Black response to Republican complaints rather than playing along like Obama did, especially in his first term.

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