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Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Actually, it is WAY more than twice.

One thing about the recent Speaker of the House election that seems to have been largely ignored (including by most media outlets) is that the MAGA 20 keep claiming that they are fiscal conservatives who want to reduce the federal deficit. This is a baldfaced lie.

First, let’s make sure we are all on the same page with our terminology. The national debt is how much money our government owes. Note that having debt is not always a bad thing. It is like a family buying a house by getting a mortgage. As long as they can pay off their mortgage over time, there is no problem.

And in fact, taking on debt can be a good thing, like getting a mortgage to buy a house to live in. The house itself has value, so (as long as you pay your mortgage off over time) it can offset the debt. Another example is taking on student loans to get an education, so you can get a good job and pay off those loans. Likewise, the government can take on debt to improve the country. For example, to build a highway system in order to increase commerce, or to fund things like schools and libraries to increase knowledge. Borrowing money is also called for to combat emergencies, such as WWII, or the Covid-19 pandemic.

A more important measurement is a deficit. When the country spends more than it takes in (in taxes, etc.) then it is running a deficit. When there is a deficit, the national debt continues to grow. Alternatively, if the country takes in more money than it spends, there is a surplus. The last time the federal government ran a surplus was the last four years of the Clinton administration. The only way to reduce the deficit is to either cut spending or raise taxes.

Ok, so back to the Republicans claiming that they want to reduce the deficit. They have done this many times. We all remember “trickle-down economics“, which the GOP claimed would help the economy. But the truth is that every Republican administration that has promised to reduce the deficit, has only cut taxes and increased the deficit.

Reagan claimed that the government was not the solution, it was the problem. Grover Norquist said that the plan was to cut the size of the government “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The Republicans claimed that the way to force spending to go down was to cut taxes (to “Starve the Beast“). So they cut taxes, but continued to increase spending (especially for the military).

Back to the Clinton administration, on becoming president he inherited a deficit, but early in his first term Clinton raised taxes on higher income taxpayers, and cut spending. This is the exact opposite of what the Republicans have done repeatedly, but as a result the US had strong economic growth, record job creation, and budget surpluses.

When Clinton’s second term ended, George W Bush quickly went back to cutting taxes on the wealthy. VP Dick Cheney famously said, “deficits don’t matter” as the Bush administration cut taxes not once, but twice and ran up the deficit. They also increased spending, including passing Medicare Part D, and starting two unnecessary wars.

During the Obama administration, the Republicans tried something even more insane. They refused to pay on the US government debt. This is called a default. Back to the analogy of a family buying a house, this is like refusing to pay your mortgage payment, not because you don’t have the money, but because you just don’t want to pay it. Immediately, several things would happen. Your credit rating would crater, which means that you would have to pay a higher interest rate, and you would lose your home if you continue to not pay.

Indeed, what the Republicans wanted to do would have increased spending and made the deficit worse. Because so many people invest in the US debt, it would have caused a major world financial collapse. Just two days before this would have happened, the GOP backed down, but there were still major financial repercussions. The stock market dropped significantly, and the credit rating of the US government was downgraded for the first time in our history. The GAO estimated that this stunt cost the government $1.3 billion dollars in 2011 alone, and more costs in following years.

The next Republican president was Donald Trump, who said, “This is the United States government… you never have to default because you print the money.” Trump didn’t even pretend to be a fiscal conservative. Again, the deficit increased.

Which brings us to now. The Republicans again now refuse to raise the debt limit. The treasury department says that we will hit the limit on Thursday (two days from now). If the debt limit isn’t raised, “Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability.”



  1. Ray wrote:

    MAGA-GOPers cannot be believed when they say anything about anything. It really is that simple.
    There has not been a true “fiscal conservative” in the ranks of the GOP for over 60 years, and never in the MAGA-GOP.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2023 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  2. Jeff wrote:

    Just look at the bill they introduced in the House that would abolish the IRS, create a national flat tax of 30%, and so much more. It won’t pass in the Senate of course, but this kind of insanity is highly disturbing to me

    Thursday, January 19, 2023 at 3:16 am | Permalink

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  1. […] the difference between debt and deficit interesting, and makes Republican dishonesty about both even more interesting. […]