The year 2011 was supposed to be when Republicans got serious about deficit reduction. This past fall, House Speaker-in-Waiting John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised Americans that the GOP would balance the budget, before turning around and championing an extension of the budget-busting Bush tax breaks. In November, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker promised voters in Wisconsin that, if elected governor, he would close the state’s $2.7 billion deficit over the next two years. In January, newly inaugurated Governor Walker signed a round of corporate tax cuts that will add $117 million to the deficit this fiscal year alone.
In short, Republicans are duping the public again. Former President George W. Bush fooled voters by promising to be a fiscal conservative before exploding the deficit by passing tax cuts for the wealthy and launching two expensive, poorly planned wars. And before him, President Ronald Reagan claimed to be leading America toward a balanced budget just before allocating billions of dollars for misguided Pentagon programs like the Star Wars missile defense system.
Despite the recent round of Republican-led tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations, Boehner, Walker and company still promise to provide serious deficit reduction. Republicans point to the budget resolution passed by the House of Representatives this month as evidence of their commitment to deep spending cuts.
Even a cursory examination of the Republican budget proposal, however, reveals the proposal to be a political statement rather than a legitimate deficit reduction measure. The federal deficit is the result of three primary factors: bloated defense spending, rising health care costs and the recently renewed tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers.
In the House bill, Republicans included zero cuts to the sacred cow that is the Department of Defense. As bemoaned in a press release by the Heritage Foundation, the resolution maintains overall defense spending at current levels. The Heritage Foundation wasn’t upset about the lack of the cuts though. Instead, they claim not increasing defense spending puts our nation at risk. If this seems odd to you, that’s because this conservative think tank regularly warns Americans that the deficit is America’s greatest threat.
Yet, conservative hypocrisy does not end with the Heritage Foundation. As part of the Republican budget, Boehner tried to secure funding for an unnecessary jet engine, to be manufactured in his congressional district. Much to his chagrin, a group of freshmen Republican representatives refused to support the pet project.
Republicans hardly took a more serious approach to bending the health care cost curve. House Republicans voted to repeal the health care reform package passed last year. With a repeal not only will insurance companies be permitted to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, but $230 billion will also be added to the deficit over the next 10 years. Once again, Republicans showed they are more concerned with pushing a political agenda than making a serious effort to cut the deficit.
Where did the $60 billion in spending cuts in the Republican budget resolution come from then? Unsurprisingly, Republicans have attacked the social welfare programs that have been a lifeline for many Americans trying to weather the recession. The moral questions aside, which is more wasteful, a jet engine that the military does not need or want or a program that feeds poor children breakfast before school? For the more than 800 Georgetown students who receive Pell Grants, their ability to afford a college education is another example of wasteful government spending, according to House Republicans.
Walker’s showdown with public employees in Wisconsin over their collective bargaining rights serves as further evidence that Republicans aren’t concerned with budget deficits. Despite his claims to the contrary, Walker is using the state’s fiscal crisis as cover to advance his political goal of destroying public unions. If he were serious about reducing the burden of pensions and health plans on the budget, Walker would work with the unions to implement the necessary cuts. In fact, the relevant unions have agreed to each and every financial concession Walker’s legislation calls for. Walker could have the necessary pay and benefit cuts passed instantly if only he ended his assault on workers’ rights. Walker hasn’t done so because his primary goal isn’t closing the deficit; he wants to destroy his chief political adversary in Wisconsin.
Finding a solution to the budget deficits facing our nation and states will require compromise between different ideologies, serious cuts to defense spending, bending the health care cost curve through Medicare reforms and not extending the Bush tax cuts. Unfortunately, 2011 has arrived and it turns out Republicans are no more serious about reducing the deficit today than in years past.
Brian Shaud is a junior in the College and a former member of The Hoya’s Editorial Board.