Monday, August 2, 2010

Thomas Frank Redux

This post from Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars is a nice revisit of some ideas expanded upon in Thomas Frank's 2008 book The Wrecking Crew.


Brayton begins with a quote from Peter Beinart:

During the Bush years, Republicans mostly insisted, in Dick Cheney's famous words, that "deficits don't matter." Now they say deficits are virtually all that matters. Their rhetoric has shifted radically, but their policy prescriptions haven't changed one bit. You might think that people terrified of deficits would be concerned about permanently extending tax cuts that will add at least $2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. Nope. The Republicans were for cutting taxes when they didn't care about deficits and they are for cutting taxes when they do care about deficits, which is another way of saying that they don't really care about deficits.

I would go one large step further. Not only do the Republicans not care about deficits, they create them intentionally. For all the Republican rhetoric about smaller government and "tax and spend liberals," the fact is that over the past 50 years the size of government has grown more under Republican presidents than under Democratic ones -- and so has the size of the debt because of their reluctance to raise taxes.

From 1962-2001, the average growth in total federal spending under Republican presidents has been 7.57%; under Democrats, 6.96%. Bush certainly did not help those averages any after 2001. During that same period, the average yearly deficit under Democrats was $36 billion; the average under Republicans was $190 billion. So under Republicans, spending grows more but revenues grow less because they always insist on tax cuts.

And that means taxes must go up at some point to pay the cost of the deficit spending plus the interest on that borrowing. I think part of the GOP strategy for the past 50 years (40 at least) has been to drive up the deficit intentionally by raising spending and cutting taxes, knowing that when the Democrats are in control they will have to raise taxes. Then they can say, "See, the Democrats are always raising your taxes!" -- but without acknowledging that it was made necessary by their own borrow and spend policies.

The fact is that neither party has any interest in actually reducing spending. The difference is that the Democrats are generally more willing to pay for it with taxes while the Republicans refuse to do so. And I think that is a deliberate strategy on their part.


What makes the Tea-Baggers and others complaining about the deficit suspect is that they were mostly silent when the great bulk of that deficit--and a huge part of our national debt--were being accrued. To find it all intolerable NOW simply reeks of political opportunism.

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