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Another sad endangered species story: Republican deficit hawks

September 23, 2018

Jim Jones

Informed Potomac observers report that the population of Republican deficit hawks on Capitol Hill has suffered a catastrophic drop since January of 2017. It is not entirely clear what has caused the sudden decline, although some attribute it to incumbency fever, which can be brought on by dread of losing elective office.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are ballyhooing a pre-election tax cut bill that would contribute about $3.5 trillion to federal deficits over the next two decades. According to the Tax Policy Center, the bill would reduce federal revenues by $631 billion in the next 10 years and by around $3.2 trillion in the following decade. Seems like a costly measure to save a few seats in Congress, but I’m sure they are worthy seats.

This proposed tax cut is in addition to the budget-busting tax cut bill passed last December, which will result in a $1.5 trillion revenue shortfall over the next decade. It is not entirely clear why either tax cut was fiscally sound, given the fact that our economy has been continuously expanding since the time my dear old GOP almost wrecked it 10 years ago.

Mitt Romney recently said, “With a booming economy, full employment, a soaring stock market, and record asset values, we should be shrinking the deficit, not growing it.” His statement echoes the Republican fiscal values I learned from GOP leaders back in the 1960s and 1970s.

My boss and mentor, former Sen. Len Jordan, told me that Republicans were fiscally responsible, believed in balanced budgets, and knew they should raise sufficient revenue each year to cover federal spending.

I recall hearing lip service to such principles from Republicans in Congress up until the end of 2016, but those voices have largely gone silent since then. Prior to that time the mantra was that there would be no additional spending, even for such necessities as relief for Hurricane Sandy victims, without a commensurate cut in other programs.

Now the mantra is cut taxes and increase spending. It is fiscally irresponsible and hypocritical of those who profess to be concerned about debt and deficits to fail or refuse to raise sufficient revenue to cover outlays.

The deficit for the current year is approaching $1 trillion or, in scary fiscal digits, $1,000,000,000,000. Three years ago, it was just $430 billion. Yet, there is hardly any GOP hand-wringing any more about the travesty of saddling future generations with massive public indebtedness. Perhaps the thought is that unchecked climate change will do us in before the debt bomb can, so why worry.

Federal debt held by the public is currently $16 trillion (the total gross U.S. debt is now over $21 trillion). According to JPMorgan, the federal debt held by the public at the end of 2018 “will exceed all debt that U.S. households have for mortgages, credit cards, cars, student loans and other personal loans for the first time in modern history.” The public debt will top $127,000 per household by the end of this year, while personal household debt averages about $126,000.

Douglas Durst, the son of the billionaire who placed the debt clock near Times Square in New York City, opines that “America has more of a revenue problem than a spending problem.” He suggests that wealthy people like him should pay more in taxes. That might be a better answer to the budget problem than an additional tax cut, which would send the debt clock (which displays the total gross U.S. debt) into hyperdrive.

We need to take drastic action to restore the depleted population of deficit hawks. Voters can help by eliminating their natural enemy — the revenue-loathing turkeys.

Jim Jones served as an Army artillery officer in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and received an Army Commendation Medal for his work with an orphanage there. He served for eight years as Idaho Attorney General and was a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years. He currently resides in Boise.

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