CBSN

Commentary: How the GOP learned to stop worrying and love the deficit bomb

When it comes to spending your money, Congress is fond of the "Henry Ford" strategy.  Ford famously told his sales staff pushing the Model T that the customers could have any color they wanted "so long as it's black."

So, when Congress passes a budget, it's inclined to spend any amount of money you choose, so long as it's "more."

Less than a year after President/businessman Donald Trump released what liberals referred to as a "savage" White House budget that slashed spending to some agencies by as much as 30 percent, Republicans are embracing a budget deal that increases spending by $300 billion over the next two years.  It's a budget so big and so bloated that, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, next year's deficit will exceed $1 trillion. 

Just last week, the Treasury Department announced it would borrow $955 billion this year—a jump of 84 percent over last year—and that was before the Mitch McConnell-Chuck Schumer "Spend-It-All" budget deal was announced.

To put these numbers in perspective, it's the biggest one-year budget increase since 2009 and the infamous Obama "Stimulus" budget.  The number of Republicans who voted for that spending plan?

Zero.

In 2015, the commitment to fiscal responsibility was strong enough to force Speaker John Boehner out of his job when deficit hawks balked at a two-year spending increase of a mere $80 billion more than anticipated. That's less than a third of the increase in the McConnell/Schumer deal. 

Way back then (aka 30 months ago), the conservative Freedom Caucus was on the verge of open revolt. Today, even with a proposed suspension of the debt ceiling included, alleged "deficit hawks" in the GOP are purring like kittens.

Imagine the Republican reaction if a President Hillary Clinton had proposed such a huge increase in spending. Cries of debt and disaster would fill the studios of Fox News and dominate talk radio.  Instead, a government controlled entirely by the GOP just delivered a spending surge that could make a Massachusetts Democrat blush.

Why? Republicans offer two lines of defense: First is the fact that any budget agreement has to get Democratic votes in the Senate and, therefore, some sort of spending increase was always in the offing.  But as Politico reported, the first pass at a deal held the spending increase to about half ($180 billion) of the McConnell/Schumer number. Democrats don't have the power to bust this budget alone.

The GOP's second line of defense for this fiscally-offensive budget is the military: "It is crucial our military is fully funded to protect our families and our future. Yet, the Budget Caps Deal is a struggle for any one with fiscal concerns," Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina, tweeted out yesterday.  Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, had a similar message.

"Hats off to Senators McConnell and Schumer for working toward this agreement," Graham said in a written statement. "Without a doubt, it's the best news for our military in recent years. The increases in non-defense spending were necessary to get a budget agreement."

In other words, when it came down to either forcing the military into fiscal reforms or borrowing hundreds of billions in new dollars, the GOP did exactly what Democrats have traditionally done —reached for the credit card.

Yes, there are a few voices of dissent. Libertarian-leaning Republican Justin Amash, R-Michigan, called the spending deal "disgusting and reckless" and the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus predicts "only a couple" of his members will support it.  In the Senate, Rand Paul of Kentucky is an all-but-certain "no" vote.

But celebrations in the Senate and encouraging statements from the White House are a sign that this is all but a done deal. Despite a $20 trillion deficit, despite federal spending that's growing twice as fast as the overall economy since 2008, and despite the fact that we're spending $300 billion a year in interest on the debt—despite all this, the answer to the question, "How much should we spend next year" is always:

"More."

  • Michael Graham

    CBSN contributor Michael Graham is a conservative columnist for the Boston Herald.