Democrats are making a terrible mistake fighting the Republican tax cuts by saying they add to the deficit, that they will “blow a hole in the budget,” etc.
Why are Democrats saying this? They are using the “increase deficits” line because they think they can appeal to a few “deficit hawk” Republicans who spent the Obama years complaining about government sending and “deficits.”
It is a mistake for Democrats to think they can “get Republican votes” by mouthing Republican deficit-fear rhetoric without understanding the strategy behind their rhetoric.
Strategy: Republicans Create Deficits, Stoke Deficit Fear, Then Campaign Against Government Spending
Here’s the thing. There are no real Republican “deficit hawks.” Republicans stoke deficit fear, and then say they are opposed to budget deficits. But they always, always increase deficits. On purpose. There’s a reason.
Ronald Reagan campaigned against “free-spending” Carter’s deficits. He stoked public fear of deficits. When he got into office he cut taxes and called it “cutting the government’s allowance.” He also dramatically increased military spending. This was done intentionally to create huge deficits. The overall strategy was called “strategic deficits.”
Again, the Reagan budget deficits were on purpose. Here is the NY Times, July, 1985, IN THE NATION; A Deliberate Deficit,
To hear Larry Speakes tell it, President Reagan emerged from anesthesia righteously demanding action on the budget deficit ”this week.” That sounds fine – except that it now appears that the deficit was deliberately created by Mr. Reagan in order to do away with Democratic social programs dating back to the New Deal.
Who says so? David Stockman, the departing Budget Director, at second hand, and Friedrich von Hayek directly. He’s the Nobel Prize-winning economist who’s been a guru of Reaganomics.
Here is more on this strategy from The American Prospect, January, 2010, “Strategic Deficit” Redux,
President Ronald Reagan’s budget director David Stockman coined the phrase “strategic deficit” to describe the usefulness of creating long-term budgetary shortfalls to undercut political support for governmental spending. As Stockman privately told Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1981, accruing large deficits “gives you an argument for cutting back programs that really weren’t desired and giving you an argument against establishing new programs you don’t really want.” Moreover, strategic deficits can enable opponents of public investments to sound compassionate — “We can’t steal from our children to pay for our short-term desires.”
‘W’s Deficits Called “Incredibly Positive News”
Skip to ‘W’ Bush’s tax cuts. As they kicked in and the budget started to turn toward deficit Bush called that “incredibly positive news.”
NYTimes, August, 2001, PRESIDENT ASSERTS SHRUNKEN SURPLUS MAY CURB CONGRESS,
President Bush said today that there was a benefit to the government’s fast-dwindling surplus, declaring that it will create ”a fiscal straitjacket for Congress.” He said that was ”incredibly positive news” because it would halt the growth of the federal government.
There’s an added benefit for Republicans, cutting taxes and increasing military bumps the economy a bit for a while (budget deficits increase the money in the economy). Pumping up deficit fear then helps them to push privatization schemes, cutbacks in services, etc. which boost inequality concentrating their power further.
There is a reason there aren’t any real Republican “deficit hawks.” That is because they aren’t against deficits, they’re against government, and they use deficit fear to turn the public against government.
Look at the effectiveness of this strategy since Reagan. Look how deficit-fear propaganda hobbled Clinton and Obama’s ability to deliver for Democratic constituencies. They were actually able to get Democrats to come out against government spending on things that make people’s lives better, and therefore not deliver a better life for people. How’d that work out for Democrats?
Do you really think those at the top of the Republican food chain don’t get this?
Republicans Have A Strategy And Stick With It. Democrats Do Not.
So we have Democrats stoking deficit fear in an attempt to fight the Republican tax cuts. The result will of course be that Republicans later use their words against them when they want to use government to help people.
Republicans rarely make that kind of mistake. They have a long-term strategy, understand it, and follow it. Democrats do not.
For example, in 2013 Obama proposed cutting Social Security using “chained CPI.” Republican Rep. Greg Walden attacked Obama for cutting spending “on the backs of seniors.”
“I thought it’s very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will,” Walden told CNN.”
Walden said this to make Obama look bad. Should other Republicans have praised him for this? Nope. Republican leadership went after Walden, making an example of him.
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, who recently took control of the House GOP campaign committee, is now in hot water with many of his fellow Republicans for — ironically enough — attacking Democratic President Barack Obama.
[…] In addition, the Club for Growth, a conservative Washington pressure group with a penchant for taking on Republicans it sees as too accepting of big government, announced it would try to drum up a primary opponent to run against the Republican congressman.
The message was clear. Republican long-term strategy is to kill Social Security so they do not attack anyone who furthers that strategy, even for short-term gain — not even Obama. No other Republicans attacked Obama for this.
One More Thing
Bruce Bartlett was ‘HW’ Bush’s deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department. He explains what this Republican tax cut means in a tweet:
The entire progressive agenda will be off the table for a generation insofar as it involves spending a dime for anything. The money won’t be there. Democrats will have to do all they can just to keep Social Security from being privatized and Medicare turned into a block grant.
— Bruce Bartlett (@BruceBartlett) December 2, 2017
It’s A Trap
Democrats who attack the tax cuts because they increase deficits are falling into a trap. Maybe they think they get a bit of short-term gain from it. Maybe they get some satisfaction from calling out Republican deficit hypocrisy But there is a reason for that Republican deficit hypocrisy and Democrats should understand that reason and stop furthering deficit fear propaganda.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. It also appeared on December 2, 2017 on Seeing the Forest, a website featuring commentary by Dave Johnson, frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Johnson.