Empty Republican promises of fiscal constraint become clear in this crisis

Empty Republican promises of fiscal constraint become clear in this crisis
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Most politicians are liars, some better than others. The coronavirus stole the last shred of credibility that Republicans had with fiscal restraint. As far as spending policy is concerned, the Tea Party is effectively dead and buried. In hindsight, Republicans lost the mantle of fiscal restraint before the current pandemic. From massive spending under President Bush to the unacceptable deficits in the first three years of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE, we have seen a remarkable pattern in recent history. With no exception of leadership today, Republicans in Congress only seem to be concerned about our careening debt when a Democrat is in the White House.

For one brief moment in time, it appeared that the concern over military and social program spending under Bush (remember Medicare Part D?), and the unrealistic dreams of President Obama, finally gave fiscal hawks command with Republicans. The Tea Party movement scored numerous victories in the 2010 election and clawed the nation away from the trillion dollar deficits under Obama. Even in 2012, Mitt Romney pledged to reduce government spending. But power is a hell of a drug, and one that allowed far too many of the class of 2010 to abandon the principles that they sold to an American public wary of surging deficits and Treasury Department printing presses. From the stars of the Tea Party revolution, even Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are going all in to embrace the government.

Promises of making cuts have sadly vanished from Republican platforms. Despite White House proposals to slash discretionary spending, the major drivers of our annual deficits, military and entitlement spending, are much higher than when Trump took office. Indeed, military spending has grown by nearly $90 billion in the last three years, even as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan. Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and ObamaCare spending made up almost half of total federal outlays last year, triple that of military spending. The entitlement time bomb is ticking steadily. Social Security expenditures increased from $410 billion to more than $1 trillion since 2000. Health care costs have exceeded pension costs, rising from less than $200 billion up to $650 billion during the same period.

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Had Trump held defense and entitlements at the same spending levels as their 2016 line items, our current spending would be at least $490 billion less. Combine that with $375 billion in interest payments last year, and we are looking at the majority of the $984 billion deficit last year. Our country simply cannot afford to support two big spending parties. The Republican establishment used the Trump coalition as cover for those federal welfare programs that were under their own control. Facilitated by the very same easy money policies of the Federal Reserve that the Tea Party slammed a decade ago, we are drinking more to avoid the financial hangover.

We have tried this formula once before, when Republicans and Democrats both believed Washington was the way out of our social ills. From the late 1960s into the early 1970s under Presidents Johnson and President Nixon, overall government spending ballooned from $118 billion to $332 billion. This period marked the start of comprehensive social programs under the banner of the Great Society, as well as the Vietnam War. At the same time, the nation was being torn apart by the 1973 oil shock and a recession. The result was the “misery index” under President Ford and President Carter with social ills, high inflation, and unemployment in the economy.

Reforms under President Reagan happened only after severe economic misery lasting almost a decade. No current members of our bumper crop of politicians, Trump and Joe Biden included, want to make decisions that will lead to electoral suicide, especially since the Keynsian mindset today does not factor in fiscal restraint in recovery. The can has reached its final kick. Both Social Security and Medicare will run out of money before we know it. Trump and Biden will campaign on expanding, not restraining, entitlement spending. Even if some miracle will occur in which no new federal programs are passed by Congress, automatic spending and the retirement of Baby Boomers means that there is no relief in sight.

There is only one way to avoid this, and that is to cut spending. Not slow the growth of spending, or cut it in terms of gross domestic product, but reductions in dollars spent. We have a deficit almost as big as the budget last year. If something is unsustainable, it stops with time. Frederich Hayek was right. We are trying to solve issues with the hair of the dog, repeating the mistakes from the Great Depression and the 1970s era. Neither ended particularly well, but politicians had an excuse back then. Today, however, we already know the mistakes we must avoid to avert fiscal disaster.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian author and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is a Robert Novak journalism fellow at the Fund for American Studies. Her newest book is “The Liberal Invasion of Red State America.”