Election 2016

Why Aren't GOP Candidates Talking About Debt & Deficits?

These days, would-be presidents are only interested in increasing spending, especially on defense.

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Among the many things missing from either of last night's GOP debates (coff, coff, Rand Paul) was any substantive discussion of reducing overall government spending. Toward the end of the undercard debate, Carly Fiorina did say something about the Republican Party being devoted to shrinking the size and spending of government, but that was about it.

Sure, there were stray comments about how awful President Obama has been when it comes to running deficits and increasing the debt (true, true), but ultimately the culprit is spending more than you take in.

As we're never slow to remind partisans, the latest supercycle of WTF budgeting began in earnest under George W. Bush who kicked out the jams on budget restraint like  The MC5 tripping on speed. Jeb Bush railed against sequestration at one point and Mike Huckabee pushed for full funding of Social Security forever and ever, amen. The longest discussion about spending per se might have come when Marco Rubio slagged Ted Cruz for voting for a Rand Paul budget that would have—egads!—cut defense spending!

[Rubio:] Every single time that there has been a Defense bill in the Senate, three people team up to vote against it. Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. In fact, the only budget you have ever voted for, Ted, in your entire time in the Senate is a budget from Rand Paul that brags about how it cuts defense.

FiveThirtyEight

As FiveThirtyEight's Andrew Flowers notes, nobody in either party (or the media) seems interested in debt and deficits these days. 

Most GOP candidates this cycle aren't even paying lip service to the conservative goal of not adding to the deficit; they're not trying to hide that their tax plans would add billions and in some cases trillions of dollars to the deficit….

it's not just GOP candidates, either. Members of Congress utter the words "deficit" or "debt" far less frequently than they did a few years back. That's according to Capitol Words data provided by the Sunlight Foundation, which mines the Congressional Record to measure how frequently politicians use certain words.

Total mentions in Congress of "deficit" peaked in 2011 at 8,101. The count declined to 1,543 mentions in 2015. The use of "debt," too, has fallen precipitously since 2011. (The debt ceiling crisis in August 2011 no doubt fueled the spike then.)

Flowers writes that an improving budget situation explains part of the neglect. Although deficits under Obama remain at or near record-high levels, they have gotten smaller over the past few years, partly because a gridlocked government relied on continuing resolutions to fund the government. It's almost impossible to increase spending via CRs, which meant that year-over-year spending, after being jacked to record levels, actually flattened and fell under Obama (don't worry, it's going back up!). Flowers also suggests that Republican candidates might not want to acknowledge deficits have fallen under a Democratic president.

He concludes:

FiveThirtyEight

As more people lose interest in the deficit, Republican policy experts face a conundrum: how to raise alarm about what they still consider to be the government's profligate fiscal policy and how to promote conservative solutions when enthusiasm is waning.

Timothy Kane, an economist at the conservative Hoover Institution, worries that politicians (of both parties) will kick the can down the road until built-up debt triggers a financial crisis. "Politicians don't care about debt until it's too late," Kane said.

Full article here.

Veronique de Rugy, Mercatus.org

Let me suggest another explanation, which I think provides a tighter fit with observable reality: The Republican Party is not actually dedicated to reducing spending by the federal government. Leave aside the many rhetorical gestures to the contrary. Yes, they complain about "out of control" spending under Democrats ad even occasionally under their own party. But when you look at the GOP's policies, votes, and speeches, virtually all of its representatives are clearly in favor of an always-esacalating defense budget and maintaining or increasing current levels of spending on Social Security and Medicare. Republicans might be fooling themselves or they might be trying to fool the public into believing they're fiscal hawks.

But if you're for those three things, there's virtually no way you can reduce overall spending. They simply make up too much of the federal budget. Out of nearly $4 trillion in spending, Defense costs $600 billion, Social Security $895 billion, and Medicare around $620 billion. Throw in another $230 billion for interest on the debt, and you're well over the 50 percent mark. Individual tax expenditures (such as mortgage-interest deductions and non-taxation of employer-provided health insurance and pension savings) cost another $1 trillion.

In budget proposals released last year for the current fiscal year, Obama's projected spending about $50 trillion over the coming decade. The House Republican budget projected spending $43 trillion over the same time frame, with annual outlays growing from $3.8 trillion to $5 trillion. Yes, that's lower than what Obama wanted, but it's still more money each and every year, forever and ever, amen.

If, as Carly Fiorina said (and many believe), the Republican Party was truly committed to spending less money, you would expect not just to hear it in their rhetoric, but to see it in their policy proposals and budget plans. Instead, we're treated to silence on the questions of looming debt that threatens to slow growth for a very long time and explosive exchanges about the awful, terrible votes in favor of a budget that would actually reduce the amount of money the government shells out every year.

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  1. And climate change, Nick. After all, World Economic Forum said failure to address it is the number one threat facing mankind, even greater than weapons of mass destruction. Instead of birth certificates and New York values, a moment or two on that would have been nice as well.

    1. the number one threat facing mankind

      Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

      1. Forgot to change your handle.

        1. Pst. The handle did change.

          1. that’s the joke.

            1. Thanks, but I’ll own up. 10 beers in and readin’ ain’t my strong suit.

              1. OT: Ever nail the mother-in-law on New Years? There was an office bet.

                1. Put it this way, she’s been wandering around a college campus with mattress.

    2. JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

    3. Why would the debate include any mention of Climate Change? You may still be trying to sell this con to others but AGW has been so thoroughly exposed that even those who strongly supported it are now either questioning it and or admitting that it was a huge lie cooked up by the rich and powerful to try and enact more controls over society. The climate pushers had their window of opportunity to push this long con and they failed. Why then would the debate make even a vague reference to it?

  2. Well Republican voters actually favor higher spending. That is why you don’t hear so much about debt and deficits nowadays. They just don’t think it should go to welfare leeches, but they are on board with getting their share of middle-class welfare.

      1. Exactly what I try to explain to those who try to lump libertarians in with conservatives. We don’t care if it’s for defense, welfare, middle class entitlements, corporate welfare or what have you — FUCK YOU, CUT SPENDING! Also, we don’t care if it’s for fighting terror, drugs, or whatever — ENOUGH WITH FOREIGN WARS ALREADY.

        All politicians need read the constitution and STOP THE DAMN SURVEILLANCE and REIGN IN ALL THE ROGUE COPS!

        These days I find I’m as far from Repubs as I am from Dems on just about every issue and I’ve reached the point where I don’t care if only 3% thinks like us. It just means the other 97% are sadly confused or just slow.

        1. That’s because you only want your middle class tax cut welfare.

        2. Thank you. I have long argued that the military is just red state welfare. Too many libertarians cling to some false sense of alliance with conservatives. Personally, when people ask me who I hate more, liberals or conservatives, I reply that it depends on who I read about last.

          1. The military spending seems to be mentally encoded in the minds of conservatives, as being off-limits. I’m not sure why. They claim to favor cutting funding for social programs, but only the ones that Obama and progs like… but I still have no faith that they would actually cut anything.

            Rand Paul and, to a lesser degree, Ted Cruz have mentioned a few things about cutting spending, but it’s not enough.

    1. their share of middle-class welfare

      I would like to see some evidence that “middle class” people are getting more out of the system than they’re paying in.

      It’s not welfare if you’re the one paying for it.

      1. You’re kidding. Entitlements are first and foremost middle class welfare.

  3. Avowed socialist and president of the USA Bernie Sanders.

    just trying that on for size. with a GOP congress, it fits better than all the others.

    1. Don’t forget “Jewish”.

      1. Really? Wow, I didn’t even realize he was Jewish. So, all the crap we heard about Romney being Mormon and yet I haven’t heard one peep from the media that Sanders would be the first Jewish President if he won.

        Personally, I don’t care, but it’s clearly one more example of the media framing the national debate.

        1. Really? He’s a living stereotype of an old Jewish man.

          I’m not all that surprised it’s not been publicized much, though. He doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve (like Joe Lieberman does) and I don’t think the media takes his campaign very seriously or seem him as much of a threat to Hillary. Otherwise, we’d likely be hearing more about it.

          1. “He’s a living stereotype of an old Jewish man.”

            Yeah, except for the part about how they really understand money and finances.

            1. bada bing!

        2. Nobody cares if he’s Jewish. People think Mormons are weird and crazy in ways that very few people think of Jews anymore.

          1. But are you-all ready for a SCIENTOLOGIST for president?!?!?

            David Miscavidge for president!!! (Well, maybe Tom Cruise).

  4. My prog friends argue that the economy does better under Democrats and that federal spending grows more under Republicans. They just never say those two things in the same discussion.

    1. The correlation is stronger if you look at control of Congress.

      Of course, it goes in the other direction.

    2. Well, they are not wrong.

      1. Correlation is not _____

        Fill in the blanks

        1. Caucasian . . . ?

        2. Cauterization?

  5. I’d vote for the candidate who goes crazy and wears a green tie.

    1. Yeah, Michael Steele should consult them on their tie wardrobe.

    2. Green means you favor pot legalization.

    3. How about seven green ties at once?

  6. “Why Aren’t GOP Candidates Talking About Debt & Deficits?”

    In his defense, Cruz has been talking a good deal about debts and deficits at his rallies and elsewhere.

    1. While advocating policies that would greatly increase spending and increase the size of the IRS. Principled, that one is.

      1. According to his website, Cruz is advocating the elimination of a large number of federal agencies, including the IRS.

        https://www.tedcruz.org/five-for-freedom-summary/

  7. And yet Reason’s Beltway Boys always start going all hysterical whenever one of our fake government “shutdowns” looms.

    1. How true!

      Can’t shut down government, but demand candidates talk about deficits and debt.

      If congress can’t use its power of the purse, and every shutdown is “bad” then what’s the point?

      I guess a GOP president wouldn’t threaten to veto as Obama/Reid did…except the GOP don’t have 60 senators, so there would still be Democratic filibusters unless everything is funded because of fear of a shutdown.

      1. You can’t shut down government because neither party would allow that to actually happen. The supposed “shutdowns” are just for show.

        1. They’re similar to two geriatric drivers playing “chicken” at 4 mile per hour. At the last moment the “Republican” drive falls asleep and takes his (or her) foot off the gas pedal. Crisis averted.

    2. The government shut downs end up costing more in the end.

      1. Yeah. There is nothing good in government “shutdowns” for libertarians. If all the government employees really didn’t get paid and things actually shut down, it might be a little different.

      2. Good case for why the ‘shutdown’ should have never end.

        Also, stop calling it a ‘shutdown’. The government never shut down. For a few days they could only spend what they took in in revenue. For a few days they had to live by a balanced budget. They still collected billions and spent billion. It never ‘shut down’. The next time it happens stop paying taxes and see if the government really ‘shut down’.

  8. Great post but it’s disconcerting to hear a libertarian refer to “mortgage-interest deductions and non-taxation of employer-provided health insurance and pension savings” as “individual tax expenditures” which “cost” another $1 trillion. If the fact that I am taxed at x% instead of x+1 is a tax expenditure that costs the government money, it implies that they own 100% and everything they allow me to keep is costing them money.

    1. Should have read further into the comments before I posted…

    2. This one struck me as bizarre too. Reason’s gonna lose its libertarian street cred at this rate.

  9. “Why Aren’t GOP Candidates Talking About Debt & Deficits?”

    I was going to reply “the same reason Colonel Sanders doesn’t talk about healthy diet,” but actually I Googled “KFC healthy menu” and got several hits indicating that there was in fact such a thing (if you’re extra-careful, I assume).

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  11. Chris Christie, not mentioned in the article, has made entitlement reform a center piece.

    1. And Barack Obama made a health care reform a centerpiece of his agenda.

      Without details, “reform” is meaningless.

      1. Christie has “detailed” his plans. You can find them by googling.

        Note: I am not a Christie fanboi here, just saying that Gillespie omitted Christie from this story.

        1. It is true that Christie’s plans meet the definition of what Nick is talking about and should have been mentioned.

          It is also true that Christie’s plans are basically “fuck you for paying SS/Medicare taxes your whole life.”

          1. It’s also true that Ponzi schemes never end well, so FDR’s SS and LBJ’s Medicare were basically guaranteed fuck you’s for future generations.

            The “fairest” solution at this point is to phase out SS/Medicare over 30 years and allow (note I didn’t even say encourage) people to save for their retirement instead of being actively penalized for it. Every year presently retiring people would get incrementally less (say 3%) than the previous full plan and payroll taxes would be reduced by a similar amount. Debt will go up but at least the unfunded liabilities would have a finite time horizon and the cost would be amortized over multiple generations.

        2. On SS, Christie wants to “Gradually Raise Normal Retirement Age to 69” and “Use Chained CPI for Cost-of-Living Adjustments”, limit federal Medicaid spending.

          See http://crfb.org/blogs/quick-ta…..ement-plan

          2008:
          OBAMA: [to Clinton]: I think we should be honest in presenting our ideas … and not just say that we’re going to form a commission …
          CLINTON: I am totally committed to making sure Social Security is solvent. You’ve got to begin to reign in the budget, pay as you go, to try to replenish our Social Security Trust Fund. And with all due respect, the last time we had a crisis in Social Security was 1983. Pres. Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill came up with a commission. That was the best and smartest way, because you’ve got to get Republicans and Democrats together. That’s what I will do. And I will say, #1, don’t cut benefits on current beneficiaries they’re already having a hard enough time. And #2, do not impose additional tax burdens on middle-class families.

          OBAMA: That commission raised the retirement age, and also raised the payroll tax. So Sen. Clinton can’t have it both ways.

          “Hillary understands that there is no way to accomplish that goal (Preserve Social Security) without asking the highest-income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system.”

  12. I normally skip Nick Gillespie articles. His oddball attempts at cleverness get in the way of whatever pedestrian message he typically purveys. In this article he tells us no one in the GOP debate discussed the deficit and says parenthetically “(coff, coff Rand Paul)”. Wtf does “coff” mean? Did he misspell cough? Still wouldn’t make sense. It turns out coff is the past participle for an obsolete German word that means to buy. Did Nick mean, in his unnecessarily, obstructively clever way, “buy, buy”? That makes no sense, “buy, buy Rand Paul”? Then it struck me, Nick probably thinks coff means bye, as in goodbye. Now that makes sense–he’s noting fiscally responsible Rand Paul has exited the debates. Having figured that out do I even want to finish the article? May be later.

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  15. Probably for the same reason Nick never talks about welfare and entitlements and only laments fighter jetz. Remind me again which spends (by far) more. Hint: not fighter jetz

  16. Carly Fiorina did say something about the Republican Party being devoted to shrinking the size and spending of government.

    Devotion may not mean what she thinks it means, then, judging by their record when elected.

  17. If the country falls to Sharia Warriors, none of your concerns mean squat.

  18. I think it is about time we educate everyone as to the meaning of debt and deficit. Politicians love to talk about the deficit but not about the debt.

    Debt is created by borrowing and subsequently spending. The deficit is simply a measure of how much spending is compared to revenues. Two entirely different things.

    When a politician brags about reducing the deficit, it does not mean we are reducing the debt. It mean that he is bragging that he is still putting us into debt but just doing it more slowly.

    No politician in modern times has reduced the debt. Even a completely balanced budget does not reduce the debt.

    Only when the deficit become negative will it reduce the debt. Most of the talk from politicians about this relies on the fact that people do not understand the difference between debt and deficit.

    1. Yep.

    2. When you invest in a T-bond (i.e. “lend” to the federal government), you actually make a deposit in a T-bond account at the Federal Reserve Bank.

      In short, Federal “debt” is nothing more than the total of BANK DEPOSITS in T-security accounts.

      When was the last time you worried about the size of the deposits in your bank?

      The Federal Reserve Bank “pays off” the”debt” simply by debiting the T-security account and crediting the holder’s checking account. No problem at all.

      So, exactly what is the problem with the federal debt?

      1. You forgot the /sarc tag.

        I know, I get that all the time when I attempt to make the most over-the-top ridiculous argument I can and somehow people don’t grasp that I’m attempting to poke fun at idiots who actually believe such nonsense.

        Also, they don’t understand the difference between sarcasm and satire. You really should post that comment on a blue site and see how many idiots you can troll.

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  20. Individual tax expenditures (such as mortgage-interest deductions and non-taxation of employer-provided health insurance and pension savings) cost another $1 trillion.

    No, cockface, they don’t “cost” anything unless we presume 100% of our earnings belong to the government and anything we are allowed to keep is an expense.

    1. Paul B said it better, and without the ‘cockface’ insult.

  21. Thanks for sticking to the relevant points. ‘Reason’ is one of the few papers that gets the big financial picture.

  22. Politicians are most fervently devoted… to getting re-elected. They will generally say, do or appear to be ANYTHING necessary to further that goal.

    So if you can promise THIS generation the moon and stars (by borrowing from future generations), why not? The politicians will be dead or out-of-office before the bill comes due – and even if they aren’t they’re better able to “run for the hills” when the shtf.

    But who is REALLY yo blame for this mess?

    I say it’s the stupid-beyond-belief voters who would vote for a POS like George Bush or Barack Insane Obozo. Maybe the idiots in the current generation won’t suffer that much – but I derive some pleasure from knowing all of their children, and their children’s children – will suffer in a hell of their making.

    There’s little more to be done. It’s too late. We’ve reached critical mass.

  23. The federal government, unlike state and local governments, is Monetarily Sovereign. It NEVER can run short of its own sovereign currency. Even if all federal tax collections fell to $0, the federal government could continue spending forever.

    The federal “debt” actually is the total of DEPOSITS in T-security accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank. The “debt” is bank DEPOSITS.

    When was the last time you worried that your own local bank has too many deposits? Banks boast about the size of their deposits.

    So why are you concerned about the deposits at the Federal Reserve Bank, a bank that never can run short of dollars?

    Concern about federal debt is a giant con job, implemented by the rich, the purpose of which is to widen the Gap between the rich and the rest.

    Most federal deficit spending benefits the non-rich. When federal deficit spending is reduced, the non-rich are hurt most. The Gap is widened.

    “Rich” is a comparative. If you had $100 and everyone else had $1 you would be rich. It is the Gap that makes the rich rich, and the wider the Gap, the richer they are.

    The next time you read an article decrying the federal debt, ask yourself this question: What is the real motivation. If the federal government cannot run short of dollars, and the federal “debt” is simply the total of DEPOSITS in T-security accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank, why does the writer want to reduce the debt?

    The answer: He is a stooge for the very rich.

    1. So you believe it a good thing that the feds simply print whatever currency they need?

      When they do this they devalue the currency which can effective reduce the value of the debt to zero. It also does the same to whatever currency you have in your pocket and your bank. This hurts the “non rich” by devaluing anything they own and by definition they can absorb the loss less than the “rich”.

  24. The following was included in the article:

    “Timothy Kane, an economist at the conservative Hoover Institution, worries that politicians (of both parties) will kick the can down the road until built-up debt triggers a financial crisis.”

    I challenge anyone to name one financial crisis in American history that was caused by “built-up debt.”

    On the contrary, every depression has come on the heels of debt reduction and every recession has been cured by increased deficit spending. See: http://mythfighter.com/2009/09/07/introduction/

    1. Important question:

      WHAT exactly does Government Almighty SPEND THE MONEY on?

      If (like Japan in the 1990s) it spends a TON of money on “bridges to no-where” with all the deficit spending, society (Japan in the case) is CLEARLY worse off, for mis-spent, mis-allocated resources!

      If the USA fed spends all these tons of money blowing people up, across the globe, and making more enemies, we’ll probably be far worse off. ***IF*** the fed spent it on better bridges, highways, sewer plants, and giant water pipes and canals to move flood stage waters from the Mississippi to the parched segments of the western USA, then just MAYBE we’d be better off. Or, fending off the next giant meteor strike, for example.

      WAY important here!!! WHAT is the money SPENT on??? PS, enough of “stimulating the economy” by torching perfectly good used cars, too! Why not burn down good houses while we are at it?

      1. PS, why limit the discussion to USA? How about Venezuela? How has their deficit spending helped them? How about Zimbabwe? “How’s that working for you?”

        1. PPS, don’t forget the example of Greece, where decifit spending supported 10 billion gov-employee mooches? Now the Germans-etc. are having to bail them out? WHO is going to bail out the USA when we turn into a giant case of Greece?

  25. Simple. Because it’s far more important and far more of a threat to national security than any of the sideshows being discussed.

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  31. I’m really surprised that Nick would describe a tax reduction (such as mortgage-interest deductions and non-taxation of employer-provided health insurance and pension savings) as “costs.

    I suppose If I was mugged, and the mugger allowed me to keep some of my money, I *could* consider it a “cost” to the thief.


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