Raising alarms about the federal deficit has become so unfashionable in GOP-run Washington, D.C., that a stray tea party push for a balanced budget attracted attention for its man-bites-dog quality.
During the most recent “shutdown” crisis, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) became one of few Republican voices against a two-year spending increase approved by Congress and President Donald Trump.
“I think if you’re for tax cuts and for increasing spending, that’s hypocritical,” he said Sunday on CBS. “I would offset the tax cuts with spending cuts, and there are a few of us that would actually do that.”
Consistently, Trump’s campaign was averse to cutting popular programs.
Among his many Republican primary rivals in 2016, ex-Democrat Trump sounded like the candidate least willing to make huge slashes. He promised a better health care system and full funding of Social Security.
So when Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney — who helped found the GOP’s House Freedom Caucus — was asked Sunday if he’d have voted for the two-year plan while in Congress, he said: “Well, probably not.”
Now his job is to promote Trump’s agenda, Mulvaney noted, including big military spending hikes.
On Monday, Trump proposed a longer-term $4.4 trillion budget plan, signaling deficits totaling at least $7.1 trillion over the next 10 years.
In the wake of a massive tax-cut bill, well-known conservative groups denounced bigger budget gaps as irresponsible. They included the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and organizations funded by the right-leaning Koch brothers.
Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the Republican majorities in Congress led the resistance to deeper spending.
Nowadays, fattened spending offers them the path of least resistance.
Not too long ago it was the Democrats who advised against worrying too much about Russian influence. The same went for deficit spending.
Now they are the “out” party, voicing trepidations about the Kremlin and budget imbalance. Republicans seem to know, as Democrats did, that austerity and cuts are unpopular.
This is an election year.
Fiscal conservatives view tax cuts not as a “sacrifice” of public revenue but as leaving money in private hands as appropriate in a private economy. But reducing taxes also means less of the government’s trillions in spending will be paid for.
And estimates by the administration of how much the tax cuts will return to the Treasury in revenue through increased economic activity are a matter of debate and doubt.
Even a more relaxed view of the deficit by those in charge does not mean they envision no limits at all on spending.
From Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, only $200 billion of it comes from direct federal spending. Much of the plan amounts to an invitation for states, localities and private entities to get the job done.
Anyway, Congress is expected to ignore the Trump budget plan and proceed on its own in the coming months. It amounts to a rough statement of the president’s official priorities.