So, is reducing the national debt still the priority concern for Republican leaders?
Remember the rhetoric:
"The national debt threatens our way of life; it threatens the value of our national currency; and it threatens our ability to pay for entitlements that millions of Americans depend on," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2009. “And that’s why it’s increasingly urgent that we focus on this growing threat — and do something about it."
"We just passed $15 trillion in national debt, making today an infamous day in U.S. history," said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in 2011. "You deserve better than leaders who are unwilling to tackle this problem."
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On the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump said he would not only stop annual deficits but would eliminate the entire $19.5 trillion national debt "over a period of eight years."
That's the rhetoric. What's the reality?
In 2014 Republicans took control of the House and Senate. Budgets are the province of Congress, so budget deficits belong to them, not the president. Since 2014 budget deficits have averaged $500 billion per year. The deficit will increase to nearly $600 billion for this fiscal year.
Any day now the national debt will surpass $20 trillion ($20,000,000,000,000).
The Congressional Budget Office, based on current budget data, projects annual deficits will "grow from 3.2 percent GDP in 2016 to 5.2 percent by 2027" and the annual deficit will "cross the $1 trillion threshold in 2022."
A 2018 budget proposal released a week ago by House leadership adds $70+ billion to defense spending and would violate the spending cap established by the 2011 Budget Control Act. While the proposal also hopes to cut $200 billion from domestic spending, the resulting budget deficit would still be between $350 and $400 billion. The Senate is unlikely to accept the House cuts to domestic spending, likely keeping the deficit high.
Then there are the President's call for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending and his plan to cut corporate taxes even if both increase the deficit.
Fox Business Network reported in April, "Republicans who slammed the growing national debt under Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday they are open to Trump's tax plan, even though it could add trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade." Some Republicans have begun quoting former Vice President Dick Cheney who said "deficits don't matter" when President George W. Bush proposed tax cuts.
The reality is as this editorial in the conservative Washington Examiner said: "Spending within our means is a simple concept, but the policy has proven difficult to enact. Both Republicans and Democrats have shown no commitment to curb overspending over the last 20 years, with nominal spending levels rising under every single presidential administration, regardless of party, dating back to President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s."
Meanwhile, the rhetoric will soon soar as Congress must once again increase the debt ceiling. There will be great wailing by Republicans, but bump the debt ceiling again they will so upward spending can continue.
The lesson here is simple. Watch what leaders do, not what they say.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.