In fact, Republicans are remarkably consistent on deficits

You’ve just got to use the right contingent rule.  For decades, Republicans have actually operated by a very simple rule.  Deficits are really, really bad when a Democrat is president and don’t really matter at all when a Republican is president.  The political benefits that accrue to Republicans from this “belief” are entirely coincidental.  Chait, with a thorough take:

During the Obama era, Democrats frequently believed, but only rarely uttered aloud in official forums, that the Republican Party was engaged in economic sabotage. Not a coldly conscious plot, exactly. But it seemed just a little too convenient that the party had reversed its fiscal ideology at precisely the time when doing so would damage Democrats and thereby smooth the GOP’s return to power.

Now that Republicans have reversed their position once again, also in a way that happens to redound to their political benefit, the answer seems a little more clear. Republicans have used their control of government to virtually double the budget deficit, which had been hovering around half a trillion dollars per year, and will now likely run well over $1 trillion — during the peak of an economic expansion. There is no economic rationale for this behavior. Their policy is simply to support fiscal contraction under Democratic presidents and fiscal expansion under Republican ones. Cynicism is the only basis to explain their behavior. [emphases mine]

Of course, this is also really, really bad economics:

Republicans are implementing fiscal stimulus on the largest scale since 2009. One could make the case (as Eric Levitz does) that, despite low unemployment, additional stimulus is still justified in order to heat up the labor market enough to produce really strong wage growth. I’m more persuaded by the need for stimulus when unemployment was above 6 percent, and that it’s no longer worth the additional debt. Alternatively, one could oppose stimulus now and also in 2009, if you seriously oppose it always. But supporting fiscal stimulus now with unemployment close to 4 percent while opposing it when unemployment was far higher is a position no economist in the world would justify.

And yet that literally-no-economist-supported stance is in fact the stance of the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party.

John Cassidy hits a similar note:

The Trump stimulus isn’t as big as the Obama stimulus of 2009 through 2011, which most Republican senators and congressmen vigorously opposed. That package, which consisted of a mix of spending and tax cuts, totalled about two per cent of G.D.P. each year. But, in February, 2009, when it was enacted, the economy was suffering through the deepest recession since the nineteen-thirties. The unemployment rate was 7.8 per cent, and G.D.P. was plummeting. If ever there was a textbook case of an economy crying out for a stimulus, that was it.

Today, by contrast, the economy is in the ninth year of an economic recovery that began in 2009. G.D.P. is growing at an annual rate of close to three per cent, and the unemployment rate stands at 4.1 per cent. Many economics textbooks say this is the sort of environment in which the government should be balancing its books, and perhaps even paying down debt, like a family salting away money for a rainy day. That’s what the Clinton Administration did during the late nineteen-nineties, when the national debt was much smaller than it is today.

The Republicans and Trump are embarked on the opposite course—confirming that the G.O.P.’s devotion to deficit reduction, which in 2011 prompted members of the Party to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, is purely cynical. Of course, we already knew this. The Reagan Administration and the George W. Bush Administration both raided the public purse to finance big tax cuts, and left the deficit much higher than they found it. The Trump Administration is merely following suit.

And more economic analysis in Wonkblog about just how stupid this is:

By running high deficits and adding to the deficit now, Congress reduces its flexibility to pass another stimulus package when the next recession inevitably arrives. Before the Great Recession, the deficit-to-GDP ratio was as low as 1.1 percent, giving the Bush and Obama administrations the room they needed to take measures to stave off an even-worse economic collapse. With this bill, the United States is going in the opposite direction — just as the economy shows signs of heating up…

he economy is, at worst, ordinary. The size of the spending bill isn’t. Former top Obama administration economist Jason Furman makes the same point. Furman is now a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I think we should be very worried,” Furman said. “As a macroeconomic matter, I’m not aware of another example of this — of a country that’s basically at full employment embarking on massive fiscal stimulus.”

Our analysis shows that, in the course of recent U.S. history, he’s right. This level of government spending at this time is downright odd and straight-up unprecedented.

In a sane and rational world, Republicans would be punished for their incredibly stupid approach to economic policy.  Alas, we do not live in that world.  They are likely to be rewarded and far more likely to be punished for shark attacks.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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