The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Is the GOP still the party of deficit reduction and fiscal restraint?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Washington on Jan. 30. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Is the GOP still the party of deficit reduction and fiscal restraint? If so, what is to be made of the Schumer-McConnell budget deal? What does the deal say about the Republican Party’s fiscal posture in the age of Trump, and where do we go from here?

Here is a lesson I’ve learned from the swamp. When it comes to budget battles in Washington, whoever wants to spend the most wins. So, after watching the debt soar under President Barack Obama, could Republicans just be shrugging off concerns about debt and deficits? Is the GOP at peace with the notion that Republican debt will somehow be less corrosive than Democratic debt? Or maybe the leadership within the Republican big tent has decided that the deterioration of the U.S. military requires making a compromise with the spendthrift devil.

Perhaps some Republicans are genuinely sincere when they claim they are being realists and accepting the things they cannot change. Making a serious dent in the deficit and beginning to reverse our debt burden can only occur if some sort of entitlement reform is on the table. But isn’t it a dodge to say we aren’t going to advance any meaningful deficit reduction by going after the discretionary budget, so why just not agree to more spending? Gee, that’s convenient. After all, the discretionary budget – including the Pentagon – was only 31 percent of the United States’ overall spending in 2016. The real money is in entitlements.

With that said, President Trump is affirmatively against going after entitlements, and Republicans seem willing to be stifled in their efforts.

Trying to do any entitlement reform without the president’s support, and that of many Democrats, would be nothing short of a gratuitous, hollow gesture that would likely lead to political defeat. Democrats would just relaunch the big lie that Republicans want to take away your Social Security, your prescription drugs, your Medicare and your Medicaid. I can already see the horror-story ads being made now. The Republican Party would be hammered at the ballot box and have nothing to show for it. But here we are.

Republicans control the White House, the House and the Senate. But deficits and the national debt are still unchecked. The GOP appears to have adopted a plan of spend more and hope for the best. But $20.5 trillion in public debt is a red light flashing on our nation’s dashboard. The engine will blow.

It’s every supply-sider’s dream that we will grow our way out of the deficit, but no serious economist would go there. And we can’t just borrow our way to prosperity.

So, what will it take to shake the country and force a change? What sort of calamity are we setting ourselves up for when the Chinese no longer buy our debt and take advantage of our weakened fiscal state?

These are the questions that everyone should be asking themselves. The debt is bad, and it is getting worse. It’s beyond corrosive. It is cancerous. But, hey, this is Washington — let’s all talk about Trump’s latest tweet.