The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On “spending,” Republicans are immune to facts

This morning, the Republican National Committee released a web video asking Democratic leaders to admit the United States has a “spending problem.” After showing footage of House Democratic leaders each denying a federal “spending problem,” it ends with this statement: “The first step to fixing a problem is to admit you have one.”

It’s a clever message, but it runs into a big problem: The facts. Democrats, including President Obama, have consistently acted to cut the deficit and reduce spending. As part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, Democrats agreed to over $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years. This was followed by $600 billion in new revenue as a result of the “fiscal cliff” deal, and then another $700 billion in interest savings. Altogether — excluding the sequester — Congress and the White House have passed nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction. When you include sequestration — which amounts to $1 trillion in across-the-board cuts — that jumps to almost $4 trillion worth of deficit reduction. That comes close to the full amount of deficit reduction pushed by debt hawks like Alan Simpson and Erksine Bowles.

It should be said that Democrats are right — the United States doesn’t have a spending problem. The massive deficits of the last four years are a product of the Great Recession and our slow recovery. With faster economic growth — and lower unemployment — a good deal of our deficit “problem” would disappear. And while we do have long-term spending challenges, those have less to do with new programs, and everything to do with growing health care costs and an aging population. The Republican push for entitlement cuts won’t do much to address that problem unless its also paired with real reforms to the health care system overall.

In any case, if Republicans aren’t going to agree that spending isn’t as big a problem as it looks, they should at least acknowledge that Democrats have been more than cooperative when it comes to reducing the size of government. That Republicans haven’t acknowledged this — and likely won’t — is a good sign that deficit reduction isn’t their real goal. Rather — as outlined in the last three years of Republican budgets — they’re looking to dismantle key parts of the social safety net. Anything less is “too much spending.” There’s nothing Democrats can do — short of abandoning their agenda, which is to defend the safety net — to accommodate the GOP demand.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.