Thursday, July 15, 2010

The myth of conservative opposition to deficits

In politics there is a constant struggle between reality and perception. Nowhere is there a better example of the latter often becoming confused with the former than the belief that the right-wing of the Republican Party (which these days essentially is the Republican Party) opposes federal budget deficits. Despite what they may say it is simply untrue that the modern conservative movements through its representatives in the Republican Party oppose deficits. Mathew Yglesias explains:
1) There have been two presidents who were members of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, and they both presided over massive increases in both present and projected deficits.

2) The major deficit reduction packages of the modern era, in 1990 and 1993, were both uniformly opposed by the conservative movement.

3) When the deficit was temporarily eliminated in the late-1990s, the mainstream conservative view was that this showed that the deficit was too low and needed to be increased via large tax cuts.

4) Senator Mitch McConnell says it’s a uniform view in his caucus that tax cuts needn’t be offset by other changes in spending.

5) The deficit reduction commission is having trouble because they think conservative politicians won’t vote for any form of tax increase.

In sum, there are zero historical examples of conservatives mobilizing to make the deficit smaller. What is true is that most conservatives oppose increases in non-military spending when those increases are proposed by Democratic presidents. A minority of conservatives are more consistent opponents of increases in non-military spending. But the key element of conservative fiscal policy is that tax revenue as a percent of GDP should be made as low as possible. This isn’t a goal they pursue that stands in some kind of balance with concern about the deficit, it’s the only goal they pursue. You can like that or not, but every single journalist who writes articles about the deficit debate that doesn’t highlight the conservative movement’s deep, decades-long hostility to deficit reduction is being grossly irresponsible.

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