Breathtaking gall. That’s the best description of what House Republicans are attempting to pass off as prudent concern about the growing federal debt. We know, for a historical fact, that Republicans care not at all about the federal debt— because it’s the GOP that has been the primary driver of ballooning federal debt for the past 40 years.
We understand that GOP talking points put the blame elsewhere— on spend-happy Democrats and their pet priorities like care for veterans, expanding healthcare access for the working class, rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, or funding our transition to clean energy.
In reality, as noted by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a center-right organization that has focused its attention on the debt for years, it is Republican tax cuts that have created the bulk of the growing debt. That starts with the Bush tax cuts of 2002, followed by their extension in 2013, along with the Trump tax cuts that slashed taxes for profitable corporations and the wealthy in 2018. Those policies, passed by narrow Republican majorities, have added nearly $8 trillion to the debt since their enactment. And the CRFB analysis doesn’t include the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, which studies have concluded are responsible for about $10 trillion of the current national debt. In other words, GOP tax cuts, by themselves, are responsible for more than half of the nation’s current $31 trillion debt.
Economists of all stripes note that the size of the debt, of course, isn’t the real issue. Instead, it’s the size of the debt in relation to the U.S. economy, or Gross Domestic Product, that matters. Yet thanks to GOP tax cuts, the debt-to-GDP ratio has exploded over the past 15 years, from about 64 percent in 2009 to approximately 125 percent by the end of the current fiscal year.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, the Bush and Trump tax cuts by themselves, account for 57 percent of that spike in the debt-to-GDP ratio.
What’s more, it was the GOP during the Trump years that lifted the budget caps on discretionary spending signed by President Obama, that had allowed the U.S. to hold its debt-to-GDP ratio stable for several years, until the Trump era when the debt exploded once again thanks to tax cuts and big increases in federal spending, not all of it COVID-related.
And if there was ever any doubt about whether today’s GOP had finally seen the light on deficits and the debt, rest assured the answer is no. At the same time that they’ve been threatening to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy over the debt ceiling extension, they’ve been advancing legislation to extend the Trump tax cuts, a move that would add another $3 trillion to the debt over the next decade, according to the CBO. The bottom line is that when given power, the Republicans always do exactly the same thing: cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy and increase the nation’s debt in the process. That’s not opinion, it’s historical fact.
In the present moment, of course, the Republicans aren’t in a position to implement their budget-busting plans through the usual political process, which is why they’ve resorted to economic terrorism by refusing to raise the debt limit for spending that has already been enacted into law. With a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democrat in the White House, and a narrow four-seat majority in the House, the Republicans simply don’t have the votes to enact their own policies. They don’t have the votes because the American public, for the most part, recognizes the harmful nature of GOP policies, particularly those of the MAGA crowd.
So, rather than make their case in the next election and let the voters decide if they want more tax cuts for the rich and cuts in governmental services for everyone else, the Republicans are resorting once again to an extremist policy that puts a gun to the head of America’s economy.
And, just to be clear, one of the end results of a default on the U.S. debt is already well known: a dramatic increase in borrowing costs, further adding to, you guessed it, the nation’s debt.
As we stated at the outset—what breathtaking gall.
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