The Republicans Are Still Confused About The Debt
By Bob Cesca: As I watch the convention coverage and glance across the throng of Republican delegates, I can’t help but to think, “Ah yes. This makes sense. The nation’s most confused and contradictory Americans have gathered to nominate a liar for president.”
I know. I know. I’m being incendiary and controversial. I should be more serious and clinical in my analysis. I should stick with the facts and refrain from attacking the character of my political opposites. But you know what? I think I am, in fact, being both serious and accurate.
Yesterday, as delegates gathered in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney for president in the name of less government, less spending and less interference in state matters, Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, stepped up to a microphone and, with Hurricane Isaac on the way, not only demanded federal cash and assistance, but he also complained that the cash and assistance already offered by the president — the allegedly socialist wealth-redistributor president — wasn’t enough.
“We appreciate your response to our request and your approval,” Jindal wrote. “However, the state’s original request for federal assistance … included a request for reimbursement for all emergency protective measures. The federal declaration of emergency only provides for direct federal assistance.”
Jindal, like Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, vocally opposed the stimulus but couldn’t wait to beg for a slice of the money. In Jindal’s case, he even gleefully posed for a photo opportunity with a gigantic sweepstakes-sized stimulus check.
You might recall Jindal’s flop-sweat inducing response to the president’s State of the Union address in which Jindal snarked about government spending on transportation and “volcano monitoring.” It slipped nicely into the on-going attack on the president as a “wealth redistributor” — a communist, a Marxist, a European socialist. But then, when the stimulus was passed, and yesterday when Louisiana faced another natural disaster, and when Jindal faced the obvious reality that states — any state — is incapable of mitigating and responding to natural disasters, he begged for wealth that’s been redistributed from New Yorkers, Californians, Oregonians and Hawaiians with their silly volcano monitoring. (Thanks to Sorkin for inspiring that last part.)
Deepening the meta-inconsistency of the Republican record of “sucking from the government teat” in spite of their perpetual demagoguery of the same, 62% of the RNC arena in Tampa was built with taxpayer money redistributed by the state government from Floridians who might never actually see an event there, and if they do, they’ll have to pay admission for the privilege (capitalism!).
Meanwhile, the RNC mounted a large digital debt clock inside the arena that will calculate in real time the increase in the national debt throughout the course of this week’s convention. The message: government spending is out of control. A Twitter follower said the “We Built This” theme of the convention refers to the debt clock. Hilarious and true. As we’ve documented here, the largest drivers of the current national debt are the policies that Republican delegates in 2000, 2004 and 2008 demanded: trillion dollar tax cuts, trillion dollar wars and deregulatory policies that caused a major financial collapse and the deepest recession in 80 years. All of these factors have combined to create the massive debt the Republicans are currently lamenting.
While we’re here, what’s the mathematical reality? Throughout yesterday evening, speaker after speaker bashed the Obama record on the debt (they also confusingly conflated it with the deficit — they’re not the same thing). Ohio governor John Kasich and Virginia governor Bob McDonnell both insisted that President Obama “doubled” the debt. First, this is patently untrue. As a percentage of GDP, the debt has only increased by 41.4% during the first several years of the president’s first term. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, presided over a near-doubling of the debt, increasing the debt by 188%. Bush 41 presided over a 55.6% increase, and Bush 43 presided over an 89% increase. At the same time, the year-over-year increase in the debt has dropped from 15% to 4% under President Obama. The president has also cut the deficit from $1.4 trillion in his first year to $900 billion in 2013 (projected by the CBO) — and $1.2 trillion of the 2009 deficit was inherited from George W. Bush.
Yet the Republicans, in predictable form, are merely and myopically staring at the big scary number and taking it at face value — devoid of context or appropriate comprehension.
So if these confused, self-contradictory people truly wanted to be responsible for cutting government spending, building their own businesses and financing their own disaster relief, perhaps they should be challenged to do so. I assure you, a guy who wants to open a bait and tackle shop in Mississippi will have a hard time bringing in customers when he becomes responsible for building and maintaining the roads leading to his store, and he’ll have a tough time securing his revenue when the FDIC refuses to insure his deposits. And Bobby Jindal will have to roll up his sleeves and start filling sandbags and buying bottled water now if he really wants to build his own state-only response to Isaac. Jindal knows he can’t do it on his own, except when he needs to score some points with confused Republican voters.
Naturally, none of this is realistic. States don’t have the tax base to unilaterally finance their own affairs, and the federal government is uniquely positioned to spend money when no one else can. It can stimulate economic growth when businesses and consumers can’t invest in the economy and it can help Bobby Jindal rebuild after a hurricane. It can rack up a large debt because its credit is solid and, at the end of the day, it can print money. Businesses can’t do that. Families can’t do that.
But if you carefully read the Republican platform and 32 state Republican platforms, the 10th Amendment — or “Tenther” — position is strongly represented. Simply put, the Tenther theory says that anything not listed as a federal power by the Constitution automatically becomes the purview of state governments. Good luck actually making good on that theory. Every business owner featured in Romney’s small government “I built this!” commercials have received loans and grants from the federal government — money which helped to increase the digital debt clock inside the RNC concert hall. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about disaster relief or small business loans.
The Republican hatred of the debt is entirely about an apoplectic hatred of President Obama and the notion that perhaps liberal policies could actually succeed, and so they’ll latch on to anything that sounds outrageous, irrespective of whether it indicts their own actions and beliefs. If they truly cared about the debt, they would renounce every Republican leader beginning with the Reagan administration and including Mitt Romney whose economic plan would add trillions to the deficit and the debt. Yet they’ve fooled themselves into believing that a would-be Republican president could make the Bush tax cuts permanent and, as a special unfunded bonus, perhaps toss in an invasion of Iran in there, too. Mitt Romney will do all of the above and more. You know, because the debt is too high.