AP Perpetuates Myth of GOP Fiscal Discipline
In the wake of Congressional Republicans' unified rejection of President Obama's just signed $787 billion economic recovery program, the AP's Liz Sidoti wrote Tuesday that "GOP tries to restore image of fiscal discipline." Sadly, that image is now as ever a myth. Far from the deficit hawks of Republican legend, the modern Republican party from Reagan forward devastated the U.S. treasury, leaving mounting debt and hemorrhaging red ink for as far as the eye can see:
As the chart below shows, the national debt under president Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 exploded as a percentage of GDP, interrupted only by the all-too-brief fiscal sanity of the Clinton years. And to be sure, the budget surpluses of the late 1990's seem like a distant memory.
That didn't prevent Sidoti, who famously presented John McCain with a box of doughnuts during a 2008 AP campaign forum, from regurgitating Republicans' talking points about a return to their tall tale of the GOP as heroic guardians of the national purse:
"The GOP's strategy of emphasizing its so-called bedrock principles - restrained spending, limited government and deep tax cuts - comes as the party works to rehabilitate itself after eight years of Bush's leadership and rebound from back-to-back elections that saw Republicans lose their grip on Congress and the White House."
Unfortunately, the Republicans' fiscal rot didn't begin with George W. Bush, but with Ronald Reagan. It was the legendary Gipper whose financial recklessness and tax-cutting fetish came to define the modern GOP.
The numbers tell the story. As predicted, Reagan's massive $749 billion supply-side tax cuts in 1981 quickly produced even more massive annual budget deficits. Combined with his rapid increase in defense spending, Reagan delivered not the balanced budgets he promised, but record-settings deficits. Even his OMB alchemist David Stockman could not obscure the disaster with his famous "rosy scenarios."
Forced to raise taxes twice to avert financial catastrophe (a fact conveniently forgotten in the conservative hagiography of Reagan), the Gipper nonetheless presided over a doubling of the American national debt. By the time he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history.
For his part, George H.W. Bush hardly stemmed the flow of red ink. And when Bush the Elder broke his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge to address the cascading budget shortfalls, his own Republican Party turned on him. While Bush's apostasy helped ensure his defeat by Bill Clinton, it was Clinton's 1993 deficit-cutting package (passed without a single GOP vote in either house of Congress) which helped usher in the surpluses of the late 1990's.
Alas, they were to be short-lived. Inheriting a federal budget in the black and CBO forecast for a $5.6 trillion surplus over 10 years, President George W. Bush quickly set about dismantling the progress made under Clinton. Bush's $1.4 trillion tax cut in 2001, followed by a second round in 2003, accounted for the bulk of the yawning budget deficits he produced.
Like Reagan and Stockman before him, Bush resorted to the rosy scenario to claim he would halve the budget deficit by 2009. Before the financial system meltdown last fall, Bush's deficit already reached $490 billion. (And even before the passage of the Wall Street bailout, Bush had presided over a $4 trillion increase in the national debt, a staggering 71% jump.) By this January, the mind-numbing deficit figure reached $1.2 trillion, forcing President Bush to raise the debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion.
To her credit, Sidoti in evaluating their response to the Obama stimulus package acknowledged "Republicans could easily be cast as modern-day Herbert Hoovers who wanted to do nothing" or "could invite charges of hypocrisy, given that government spending ballooned when Bush and his GOP were at the helm." But for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who like the candidates for the chairmanship of the RNC blamed Bush and not his party for the nation's fiscal woes, it's just a question of principles:
"Standing on principle and doing the right things for the right reasons, on behalf of your constituents, will never get you in trouble."
Those Republican principles, as Vice President Cheney explained to then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in 2002:
"Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
Not, that is, to Republicans.
As for the iron-willed fiscal discipline of Goldwater's heirs in the GOP, like the unicorn and the tooth fairy, that too is a myth.