If you’re like me, it’s difficult acclimating to the new Republican role as The Party That Wants the Numbers to Add Up.
Forgive me, but when I see John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest striking the virginal pose, halos overhead signifying “zero dollars more than revenues allow,” I can’t help but see a whole other group.
I see the Republicans of the Bush-era fiscal rave — the all-night spending party that barely blinked at the nightclub tab, nodding to the beat of Dick Cheney’s rapping, “Deficits don’t matter.”
I did see one Republican at the time, Sen. John McCain, blasting his party for authorizing off-the-books expenditures for simultaneous wars. Response? Damn the deficits; full speed ahead with more tax cuts.
Now, of course, we’re supposed to believe things have changed — the tea party and all.
However, reading these words from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, I want to ask him, “Are you blind?” He said:
“Today’s conservatism is completely wrapped up in solving the hideous mess that is the federal budget, the burgeoning deficits . . . We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping.”
Sorry, but the new GOP breed is less interested in reducing the deficit than never having to pay a dime more in taxes for all the government that was bought in the years since the budget surplus under Bill Clinton.
Exhibit A to depict reality is this from the New York Times about Senate Democrats calling Republicans’ deficit-bluster bluff:
“The House Republican demand that the Senate produce a budget by mid-April could set in motion a Senate effort to overhaul the tax code to raise more revenue, contrary to Republican vows to stand against any more tax increases.”
Recall that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wanted to reform taxes as well, close loopholes, but to reduce the deficit not at all. Revenue-neutral, baby.
See? The New Party of Bookkeeping isn’t so much interested in making things add up as it is avoiding further embarrassing Grover Norquist, who has threatened with a martini skewer any Republican in Congress who voted for the “fiscal cliff” bill that let some tax cuts lapse.
Today’s GOP is less interested in deficits than what motivates Norquist: starving government.
If the GOP truly were motivated by bookkeeping and deficits, it would acknowledge that the nation has maintained 21st-century spending levels with (as a percent of GDP) 1950s tax levels.
If it were truly the Bookkeeping Party, the GOP would be amenable, per Simpson-Bowles, to significant cuts in military spending. It’s not.
Parallels can be seen in states strapped to Republican desires to cut taxes, and to strangle human services and education. In Texas, amid the Great Recession, a rough fiscal time was made much rougher because of a property tax cut presented as “school finance reform.” A new business tax didn’t come close to making up for revenue lost.
This resulted in an enormous fiscal hole for schools. Even though Texas balanced its budget as state law requires, its Republican leadership acted, and continues to act, irresponsibly. Instead of storing grain for hard times, it was making corn cakes with its seed corn.
Nationally, the GOP did much the same under Bush with reckless tax cuts. And when hard winter hit — the worst recession in generations — when the federal government had to spend to stimulate the economy, Republicans flung, and continue to fling, accusations of unnecessary hyper-spending at Barack Obama.
“Obsessed with bookkeeping?” That’s hilarious. Deficits by design? Bingo. The better to strangle government.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.