Once upon a time, balancing the budget and lowering the national debt were top Republican priorities.
Over two decades ago, Newt Gingrich led a GOP revolution to do just that. Our own Sen. Roger Wicker, then in the House, signed on to Gingrich’s “contract for America.” Back then, in 1994, the debt totaled $4.7 trillion.
In July 2009, then Senate Republican Leader and now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the national debt “threatens our way of life.” That year the debt was up to $10.6 trillion.
In 2012, the leaders of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform called it a “national crisis.” That year the debt hit $16.1 trillion.
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In 2015, Sen. Ted Cruz, a persistent debt hawk, said, “We need to stop bankrupting our country.” That year the debt hit $18.1 trillion.
In January of this year, Secretary of Defense Gen. Jim Mattis agreed the national debt is the greatest threat to our national security. “I consider it an abrogation of our generation’s responsibility to transfer a debt of this size to our children,” he added. This year the debt topped $20.2 trillion.
Annual deficits keep adding to the total. Last year the deficit added $666 billion. Without any consideration of the tax reform bill gripping minds and hearts in Washington, annual deficits are on track to top $1 trillion by 2021. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen last week said this debt trend “should keep people awake at night.”
But, this ever growing “threat” and “crisis” somehow aren’t so gosh-awful important right now.
McConnell along with Cruz and Wicker is pushing the Senate to pass a tax reform bill nonpartisan experts say will add substantially to the debt. McConnell and company argue tax cuts in the bill will “pay for themselves” through economic growth. Debate on the bill stalled last week when Congress’ own Joint Committee on Taxation said cuts would still add $1 trillion to the debt after accounting for economic growth.
So, Mitch, do skyrocketing deficits and debt not matter any more?
Back in 2012, former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who headed the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also wanted to cut corporate tax rates. But their plan would have reduced annual deficits by an average of $550 billion. Oh yeah, they wanted to balance the budget just like Newt.
Here’s one for you. In 2015 while running for president, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would implement the Simpson-Bowles plan if elected. “We know what to do, but we’re afraid to do it,” Graham said.
The Simpson-Bowles plan called for tax reform to raise tax revenues to whittle down the debt, not pump it up.
Asked about the tax bill recently, Graham said, “The Republican Party needs to deliver.” Later he added, “Cutting taxes is not going to add to the deficit in any appreciable way.”
From balancing the budget to not adding “in any appreciable way.” That’s a pretty big swing!
Oh, Graham said one other thing that may help you understand all this, “the financial contributions will stop” if tax reform fails.
Bill Crawford is syndicated columnist from Meridian.