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“They Never Really Cared In The First Place”: Why Republicans Don’t Want To Acknowledge The Falling Deficit

An important budget memo was issued this week celebrating just how far the deficit had fallen over the last five years. But in one of the incongruities that define the political moment, the memo was issued by a Democrat, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Budget Committee, not a Republican.

The steep decline of the deficit is not something Republicans really want to talk about, even though their austerity policies were largely responsible for it. If the public really understood how much the deficit has fallen, it would undermine the party’s excuse for opposing every single spending program, exposing the “cost to future generations” as a hyped-up hoax. In fact, it would lead to exactly the conclusion that Ms. Murray reached in her memo to Senate Democrats: that the country can now afford to spend money to boost employment, stay competitive with the rest of the globe in education and research, and finally deal with the long-deferred repairs to public works.

In 2009, the deficit was more than $1.4 trillion, which was nearly 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. This year, the deficit will be a little more than a third that size: $520 billion, or 3 percent of G.D.P. The Treasury Department said on Thursday that the deficit fell more sharply in the last fiscal year than in any year since the end of World War II.

Some of the deficit reduction — about 23 percent — is due to tax revenue increases, mostly from the deal to raise income tax rates to Clinton-era levels on households making $450,000 or more. And some is due to lower interest costs, and the slowing growth of health care costs, which is partly attributable to the health care reform law.

But about half of the reduction, the biggest part, is the result of $1.6 trillion in cuts over several years to discretionary spending demanded by Republicans in several rounds of budget negotiations. As a recent Times editorial noted, this has become the tragedy of the Obama administration, undoing the positive effects of the 2009 stimulus, keeping the economic recovery sluggish, and hurting millions of vulnerable people who depended on that spending for shelter, food and education.

Having prevailed over all of those liberal programs, why can’t Republicans acknowledge that the deficit has been vanquished? Just yesterday, they blocked a bill to provide expanded medical and education benefits for veterans, citing the looming deficit. “This bill would spend more than we agreed to spend,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “The ink is hardly dry and here we have another bill to raise that spending again.”

The answer, of course, is that Republicans never really cared about the deficit, having raised it to enormous proportions during the administration of George W. Bush. Their real goals were to stop government spending at any cost, and to deny President Obama even a hint of political victory or economic success.

And so Republicans will resist any attempt to use their budget triumphs for Democratic purposes. As Ms. Murray writes, that will create different kinds of deficits: a deficit of people working, of students studying, of roads and bridges and research projects that can lead to prosperity instead of the gloom of austerity.

By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 28, 2014

March 2, 2014 - Posted by | Deficits, Republicans | , , , , , , ,

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