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Child of Reagan Marco Rubio Owes a Debt to The Gipper

February 25, 2016

Every four years, Republican White House wannabes climb over each other in the quest to proclaim themselves the heir to the sainted Ronald Reagan. So it was no surprise in South Carolina on Saturday when second-place finisher Marco Rubio proclaimed:

"The children of the Reagan Revolution are ready to assume the mantle of leadership. Now, those of us who grew up when it was morning in America, and Ronald Reagan was in the White House, are ready to do for our generation -- are ready to do for the next generation what Ronald Reagan did for ours."

In one sense, Senator Rubio is surely right. After all, Ronald Reagan came to the Oval Office promising to cut taxes, raise defense spending and balance the budget. Instead, in 8 shorts years the Gipper tripled the entire national debt run up by the federal government over the previous 200-plus years of the Republic. Now, Reagan's child Marco Rubio is pledging to once again unleash oceans of red ink as far as the eye can see.

Here's why. Senator Rubio has made four laughably contradictory commitments. As President, he would simultaneously (a) deliver a massive tax cut windfall for wealthy draining as much as $12 trillion in revenue over the next decade even as he (b) hikes the Pentagon budget by at least $1 trillion while (c) demanding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and (d) refusing to raise the debt ceiling. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that the federal government would run up $9.4 trillion in new deficits between 2017 and 2026 as spending ($51.4 trillion) outstrips tax revenue ($42.0 trillion). So, to keep his promises, Ronald Rubio would have to would have to immediately begin slash federal spending by up to $21 trillion--that is, by more than 40 percent--over ten years. As I warned previously:

The inescapable outcome of Rubio's full set of demands is that the United States would either default on its debt or experience an economic calamity--or both. Even if Congress managed to avoid breaching the debt limit by somehow slashing $21 trillion from the $51 trillion in currently forecast spending, austerity of that magnitude would usher in the worst financial free-fall since the Great Depression.

Of course, Ronald Reagan never handcuffed himself the way his would-be offspring is now proposing. The Gipper raised the debt ceiling a staggering 17 times. With his big increases in defense spending, expansion of the federal government and jaw-dropping tax reductions for the rich, he left himself no choice. As most analysts 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 ultimately raise taxes 11 times to avert fiscal catastrophe, the Gipper nonetheless presided over a tripling of the American national debt to nearly $3 trillion. By the time he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan more than equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history. It's no wonder Stockman lamented in 2010:

"[The] debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party's embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don't matter if they result from tax cuts."

Vice President Dick Cheney certainly agreed, declaring in 2002 that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." And as I documented in "The Republicans' Dynamic Deception for 2016", The Gipper's would-be heirs in 2016 do, too, suggesting like Arthur Laffer's acolytes before them that "tax cuts pay for themselves":

Among many others, Citizens for Tax Justice doesn't share the supply-siders dynamic faith. The CTJ's analyses forecast that Marco Rubio will drain $11.8 trillion from the Treasury over 10 years. Jeb! Will siphon off $7.1 trillion! (Bear mind that total federal spending over the next decade is projected to be $41 trillion.) As Vox explained, Ted Cruz's combination of a flat tax and a value-added tax (VAT) is the most regressive of them all. The top contenders provide mammoth tax cuts to the richest one percent of Americans. And the GOP field does all of this even as they demand a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and some refuse to raise the debt ceiling.

For his part, Ronald Reagan confessed that the mountain of national debt he built was among his greatest failings. As he put it in his farewell address on January 11, 1989:

"I've been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do. The deficit is one."

Last week, Rubio took to the Breitbart op-ed pages to decry "the $20 trillion debt our next president inherits." Marco the Son pledged to continue the work of Ronald the Father by declaring, "Presidential leadership is needed to get our debt under control, and I am the only candidate in this race who can and will stop our runaway debt." But as the numbers show, Marco Rubio won't erase the national debt, but would likely double it.
That sure sounds like something a child of Reagan would do.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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