The Tea Party Does Not Really Care About the Budget Deficit

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A recent New York Times article exposing the contradictory claims of the G.O.P.’s “call” for cuts is stunning, even though it reports what anyone paying attention to the news already knew. Riding the wave of populist anger at a perceived draconian government encroachment, the Republicans have campaigned on the idea of cutting spending, and it appears to be working. Of course, their “plans” have no substance, but empty rhetoric and bankrupt policies are what their supporters want. And they will get what they deserve. The problem is, the rest of us will likely have to suffer too.

Conservative candidates have come up with deficit trimming ideas that are either totally unrealistic—as The Times explains John Boehner wants to cut “non-security discretionary” spending by 20% in spite of the fact that the largest drop in any year since 1982 has not exceeded 5.5%, and many Tea Party candidates simply seek to dismantle most government agencies— or prohibitively unpopular, such as Paul Ryan of Wisconsin’s push for sharply reducing Social Security and Medicare. In truth, the right is doing nothing more or less than promulgating endless disinformation-based cheap shots at Obama, motivating voters with lies about how health care reform, along with the stimulus and Tarp, will create unmanageable and unnecessary deficits.

Needless to say, they never complain about the fact that it was Bush’s health care reform (remember his ludicrous Medicare prescription program? You know, the one that wasn’t paid for and created the infamous donut hole?) which according to the Times will cost $1.1 trillion over the next decade, adding more to the deficit than Obama’s health care overhaul, the stimulus and TARP combined! They also don’t like to talk about how, despite their hysteria about government expansion under Obama, as the non-partisan explains,” federal and state government jobs… increased by 1.7 million in eight years under Bush and” fell “by 357,000 since President Barack Obama took office.” Let’s also not forget that Obama’s health care plan will reduce deficits by $143 billion according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and the stimulus consisted largely of tax cuts for 95% of Americans (something conservatives aren’t too keen on discussing honestly) while, together with the dreaded TARP program, which has earned taxpayers $23 billion, preventing a depression.

All this makes laughable the conservatives’ “concern” about the deficit. If the Republicans win big, as expected, they will try to repeal health care reform, which, as the Times reports, “would actually increase the deficit by more than $100 billion over 10 years,” and they would push for ignoring the admonitions of the king of failed conservative fiscal policy, Alan Greenspan, by extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, adding “$700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.”

The pathetic truth is that the Tea Party and all the other hypocrites on the right don’t actually care about the deficit at all, and they never have. Their feigned alarm is really just an excuse to smear the President. If matters were otherwise they would express anger over the record deficits ran up for no urgent reason by George W Bush and Ronald Reagan. But during those presidencies, conservatives ignored the economists who warned that needless deficit spending is dangerous and foolish. Rather, they would argue, everything’s fine because the tax cuts will pay for themselves (a non-theory that even Alan Greenspan has recently rejected), and running up deficits as a matter of standard policy is not a cause for concern since the percentage of debt to GDP is manageable.

Now, we got lucky after Reagan put America on a perilous course with his fecklessness because his successors recognized the fallacy of “Voodoo economics,” as George H.W. Bush labeled it, and instead raised taxes. In addition, the rise of the internet created an unexpected and unprecedented boom.

But this time around we probably won’t be so fortunate. However, the blame must be placed on Bush, not Obama: it was Bush who resumed “Voodoo economics” as if it were a sustainable approach. Only his agenda was even more irresponsible than Reagan’s, since he started two foreign wars and devised his obscenely expensive Medicare program to boot. Furthermore, it was Bush’s deregulatory policies, which were largely a continuation of Reagan’s, that gave rise to the epic housing bubble and created the crisis we currently face.

Obama has merely done what any responsible president would do when the country is on the brink of fiscal collapse: engage in deficit spending, the cornerstone of classic Keynesian economics. And it worked. The proof is beyond dispute. Consider, both Hoover and Obama inherited nearly identical scenarios. Hoover ignored Keynes’s approach and did nothing to prevent mass bank runs or stimulate the economy with spending, but rather implemented fiscal austerity. As a result, the country plunged into the Great Depression. Obama, on the other hand, continued TARP—a program which, unbeknown to nearly half of Americans according to polls, was started by Bush— and orchestrated the stimulus package. Consequently, the recession technically ended months ago, and the most pressing question now is when will unemployment return to acceptable levels, whereas before Obama initiated his policies the question was will there be another Great Depression.

But the right, spurred on by the vicious lunatics of the Tea Party, insist on portraying the President as an irresponsible deficit spender and socialist who has raised taxes. Aside from the fact that there is no logic to their contradictory claims, there is also no truth involved either. In addition to devising a health care reform that will reduce the national debt and engaging in deficit spending for necessary purposes and not as a matter of standard procedure—he has, after all, commissioned a bipartisan deficit reduction committee by executive order no less, much to the hypocritical chagrin of the Republicans— Obama has not initiated socialist policies (with the one exception being the auto bailouts, which have resoundingly succeeded so far), even though in some cases he probably should have. He did not nationalize any of the failing banks or Wall Street firms, and his financial overhaul is extremely lax, especially since it does not reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. Last, he has in fact cut taxes for 95% of Americans.

But none of this matters. If Obama had been a Republican, the Tea Party almost certainly would never have gotten off the ground, since many of his policies, such as tax breaks and an aggressive effort against terrorism, are considered conservative, and FOX News along with the other propaganda artists on the right would have emphasized the President’s tax cuts and continued to pretend that budget deficits are not fundamentally dangerous, just as they did during Bush’s presidency. Furthermore, if Obama had not inherited the most depressed economy since Hoover the American people would not be suffering from an unavoidably long period of high unemployment and would therefore not grant any consideration to the extremists running from the right. But crises breed uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds fear. As such, the population is willing to believe anything, even if it is blatant disinformation, and it seems such an environment will produce radically conservative congressmen who thrive on smear campaigns to mask their irresponsible behavior and bankrupt policies.
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Congressional Budget Office Health Care Estimates:
TARP earned taxpayers money:

Obama Stimulus Cuts Taxes for 95% of American Households:

Government jobs increase under Bush and fall under Obama:

TARP and stimulus prevented a depression:

Classic FOX News article, admirably entitled “Economics 101,” from 2007 defending Bush budget deficits and downplaying emerging fears about the Subprime Crisis:,2933,259241,00.html

Half of Americans think Obama started TARP:

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A recent graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, I consider myself a student of Melville and Shakespeare. Particularly, my fascination with Moby Dick has sparked a broader interest in many fields such as politics, history, science, economics, etc, since that novel deals with disparate disciplines and issues in an encyclopedic, yet accessible manner.

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