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Who Killed the Deficit Hawks? You and Me, but Especially Paul Ryan.

Calls to shrink the size, scope, and spending of government, or even balance its budget, have gone the way of the dodo bird. That's kind of a problem.

Simon & SchusterSimon & SchusterWho killed the deficit hawks, a gone-missing species of politician that once was everywhere?

Time was not that long ago when most Republicans and even many Democrats were fixated on shrinking annual budget deficits, reducing the national debt, and making sure outlays and revenues kind of matched up. They didn't agree on much of anything else, including the proper size, scope, and spending of the federal government. But they did think that voters should mostly pay in the here and now for what they were getting. Government by Groupon? Go eff yourself, buddy!

As Paul Kane notes in a must-read Washington Post column, back in 2006

House Democrats marched toward a decisive midterm victory that thrust them into the majority. Then, their numbers were populated by fiscal conservatives in Southern and rural districts who pledged to cut the deficit, as well as antiwar liberals who wanted to bring troops home from Iraq at a time when the war was costing more than $100 billion a year.

He's not kidding. A dozen years ago, the Dems campaigned loudly and successfully on the profligate spending of the Bush administration and Republican Congress. In its first six budgets, during which Republicans controlled the federal government's purse strings, total inflation-adjusted spending increased by 2.4 percent annually on average, the highest rate since FDR was in office. Federal spending as a percentage of GDP also reached new heights. Everyone agreed this was a bad thing and the Democrats were able to win partly because they promised to rein in such irresponsible behavior. When she was elected Speaker of the House in early 2007 by her fellow Democrats, one of Nancy Pelosi's applause lines during her first speech in office was actually:

After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: pay as you go, no new deficit spending. Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt.

That pledge didn't last very long, of course. It never does. Once you get in power, well, you just tend to lose the inner strength or fortitude to actually cut spending, raise taxes, or some mix of both. As Kane underscores, this was especially true of retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

Ryan, a onetime preacher about the evil of debt, now brushes aside any questions about how annual deficits rocketed under his watch — from about $430 billion in 2015, when he took the gavel, to almost $1 trillion as he heads for the exit three years later.

Brushes aside! That's putting it lightly. Actually, what Ryan does is simply ignore his own role in the problem, which he at least correctly identifies as spending like a drunken sailor:

"Revenues are up. The problem is a predictable one — it is spending," Ryan said in a farewell event with Wisconsin news media Wednesday at the Capitol. He pinned the blame on Medicare and Social Security costs.

"It is baby boomers retiring, a country not prepared for it," Ryan said. "It's health inflation, and it's the entitlement programs."

Let the record show that, with the exception of Obamacare, Paul Ryan voted for just about every major expansion of government power and spending put in front of him in the 21st century: The Patriot Act (which not only expanded government surveillance, it created a ton of new spending opportunities), all of Bush's and Obama's wars and defense budgets, TARP, No Child Left Behind, Medicare expansion, you name it. And for all the abuse that Ryan took for "voucherizing Medicare" (which hasn't happened), the budget plans he kept pushing always spent more money in the next couple of years before magically finding balance a couple of decades down the road.

But what Kane shows too is that politicians are only as cowardly as voters let them be. He writes that a mere 14 percent of us consider "the deficit" as the top issue facing the country, well behind other topics such as "the economy" (25 percent), "health care" (24 percent), "gun issues" (23 percent), and "immigration" (17 percent).

If Democrats retake the House in November's midterms, it will be the first time in more than 70 years the majority has flipped without deficits or government overreach playing some key role in creating the backlash to the party in power.

Read "Deficit hawks are dead, and few in Washington can muster any outrage."

Prediction: Right-leaning deficit hawks will magically spring back to life the minute the Democrats takes control of some combination of the House, Senate, and Oval Office. It will turn out that the hawks weren't really dead, they were just resting their eyes. It's anyone's guess when left-leaning deficit hawks might re-emerge. Reason's Peter Suderman has argued convincingly that due to blatant Republican hypocrisy on spending issues, Democrats no longer even have to pretend to give a shit about how to pay for stuff anymore. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other "Democratic socialists" really don't have to come up with plausible means to pay for $40 trillion (!) in new spending over the next decade because Republicans didn't bother to pay for all the new stuff they bought.

So, who killed the deficit hawks? Well, Paul Ryan, for sure, and other hypocritical Republicans. But after all, it was you and me.

Reminder: Balancing the budget and reducing the national debt are not simply accounting fetishes. Sustained periods of large and growing national debt hurt long-term economic growth.

Related: "Are We Broke Yet?," a Reason video from 2011.

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

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  • creech||

    So, what's the answers guys? The maybe 1/4 of us who actually want to cut government spending can refuse to support or vote for RINOs and other spineless GOP congressmen? And then the "Democratic Socialists" take both houses with big majorities and "free shit" really explodes.

  • Tony||

    Democrats believe in paying for the shit they buy.

    So the choice is buying social welfare and paying for it, or buying more military hardware and corporate welfare and not paying for it. Pick your poison.

  • BillyG||

    Democrats believe in paying for the shit they buy.

    You mean like Medicare? The medicare payroll tax doesn't come close to paying for it and never has. Or how about any other "social safety net" from the past 70 years?

    So the choice is buying social welfare and paying for it, or buying more military hardware and corporate welfare and not paying for it.

    Right, because the Democrats don't pass corporate welfare (ethanol subsidies/mandates, solar/wind tax credits, medicare/medicaid, etc...)

  • Tony||

    Democrats want to raise some taxes. It's unavoidable given how many trillions Republicans have cut.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    They couldn't possibly raise enough taxes for all the extra spending that they want.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's not possible to raise taxes enough to cover current spending.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Tony, there is no way to lay for all your democrat bullshit. To actually pay for everything we spend on would cost 20% of the world's GDP. Even if we had zero mi,Italy that number doesn't drop much.

    So stop with your disingenuous bullshit. And you don't pay for anything anyway. You look for someone to demonize to take it off of.

  • tlapp||

    Tax revenues increased after the JFK tax cuts, the Reagan tax cuts, Clinton tax cuts from the Tax Relief Act of 1997 and the Bush tax cuts. They have increased after the latest tax cuts. We don't have a government revenue problem.

    "If you cut taxes and revenues rise you have not cut taxes enough" Milton Friedman

  • DarrenM||

    You should care more about increasing revenue than increasing taxes. The latter does not necessarily lead to the former. Of course, as has been shown time and time again, even if you increase revenue all that happens is that spending increases along with it. However, if revenue declines for any reason, spending never declines with it.

  • Don't look at me.||

    MOAR TAXEZ! TAXEZ LEAD TO PROSPERITY!

  • Tony||

    You people are the ones talking about fiscal responsibility.

    I know the Norquist plan is to cut taxes and force Democrats to cut programs and take the political heat, but that's not quite working out is it?

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    Democrats didn't pay for Obamacare, they only pretended to pay for it and it came back to bite them anyway. So if Democrats were really serious about being responsible they would have used the Medicare savings in the ACA to pay for Medicare Part D but instead they used those savings to pay for the ACA...and the savings were phony anyway.

  • Don't look at me.||

    " You people"
    Racist bastard.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    What do mean, "you people" you racist Democrat?

  • Tony||

    People who were dropped on their heads when they were little babies.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yeah, Lefties do have some 'dropped on their heads' brain damage, alright.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    America's secret epidemic, apparently.

  • Mickey Rat||

    We all know the Democrat's strategy, bribing the public with money taken from the public..

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    We all know the Democrat's strategy, bribing the public with money taken from the public..

    You need to give Republics some credit for adopting that tactic, and you need to really give the Democrats the all time achievement award for adopting the Republican's tactic of government being the answer to all our fears.

    It used to be the Russians and the screaming yellow zonkers or horde or whatever, now it's global warming, climate change, bad words, straws, nazis, fascists, redistricting, and by far and away my favorite, government.

  • Flinch||

    I have a different theory: democrats raise taxes to get to a deficit threshold republicans would have likely voted for anyway. At no time is "paying for it" a calculation - it's just a talking point to get people to acquiescing to wilful damage done to the economy by jacking up the cost of living.

  • JesseAz||

    So that doubling of the deficit never happened under O?

    You dumbfucks also believe government spending can grow at double the rate of gdp growth.

  • Fmontyr||

    Regardless of what is spent, Democrats in the past 50 years have been the more fiscally responsible party when they occupy the White House. Congresses switch back and forth during various administrations. And remember that presidents have the power to control spending by the power of the pen. So when Reagan left office after two terms the national debt had ballooned from where it was when he took office. When Clinton departed after two terms the debt had fallen significantly. Under Bush 43 the debt went up dramatically again and when Obama left after two terms the national debt had been reduced yet again. Now you so-called conservatives put this in your pipe and smoke it!

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    The answer is not to play into the two-party bullshit game.

    On the topic of spending, both major parties are in unison. The only way to register a vote against more spending is to vote against both major parties.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Yup. Vote them all out, get some fresh faces.

  • DarrenM||

    The only way you can effectively vote against one party is to vote for the other. Voting third party almost never accomplishes anything.

  • Tony||

    Young guns: insufferable Ayn Rand dweeb, Eric Cantor who? and is that a speech impediment or is he an actual retard?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Tony, you're the retard. That's why you vote the way you do. That, and you're a sociopath.

  • Tony||

    So I'm a retarded sociopath. Jesus Christ, what if they let me out in public?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You talk gibberish, but hey, its a free country.

    Unlike the Socialist nation that you want.

  • 2VNews||

    Republicans: Authoritarian, economically hypocritical, spendaholics.
    Not to be confused with:

    Democrats: Dictatorial, socialistic, economically ignorant, spendaholics.

  • macsnafu||

    ^^ This. +1000!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's anyone's guess when left-leaning deficit hawks might re-emerge.

    A year and a half ago would have been the fucking time.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Paul Ryan turned out to be a principle-deprived, hapless coward.

    His book about how he tried to stand up to Trump and stand up for his ostensible principles seems destined to be a hoot.

  • Flinch||

    Add craven. He's part of the cabal scared to death about the media hand wringing over a few locked out contractors getting labeled as a "government shutdown". We have one these dreaded events every week... mine was boring and nothing happened of any note. Sunday was hot, but not unusually so for where I was.

  • sarcasmic||

    Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this two-fold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.


    -Bastiat

  • SQRLSY One||

    Don't tax you,
    Don't tax me,
    Tax the fella
    Behind the tree!

    -Some democrat Senator from Louisiana from way back when as I recall...

  • Sebastian Cremmington||

    Obamacare has been suboptimal because Democrats promised to pay for it in contrast the Medicare Part D. So Medicare Part D has been very popular because Democrats couldn't attack any taxes associated with it. Bottom line--just implement new programs and don't worry about paying for them.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    And here we see the real root of our deficit: Welfare programs which are the bread and butter of the Democrat (Socialists).

  • JesseAz||

    ACA doesn't pay for itself. Never has.

  • Rich||

    a mere 14 percent of us consider "the deficit" as the top issue facing the country, well behind other topics such as "the economy" (25 percent), "health care" (24 percent), "gun issues" (23 percent), and "immigration" (17 percent).

    So, -3 percent consider "gender issues" the top?

  • SQRLSY One||

    What happened to "globabble warmererering"?

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    I'm sure running on tranny bathroom free choice will really get all those democrats elected.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Reason is against tax cut or Trump budget cut.

  • JBSparks||

    All that's needed is a leader with a plan to stop the waste and a general agreement on which programs can be eliminated altogether. Donny J coulda, woulda, shoulda, but, he blew it. Mike McConnell, 700 WLW, Cincinnati Ohio, The Big One, used to ask his audience which government programs could be eliminated. It was surprising that it wasn't as easy as you might expect. Personally, I have no idea what value The Department of Education adds. Is there a state unable to educate their young without assistance from Washington?

  • Flinch||

    At this point, anyone restoring regular order [with no other plan] would be a budget hero: burying baseline budgeting and forcing debate would both save us billions and shock the conscience to where we could talk about cuts. Omnibus bills are on balance a threat to our future - everything is on autopilot, and congress has ceded the balance of its power to the executive branch.

  • CE||

    Oh, you are NOT pinning this on me.

  • Alice Lenhardt||

    ¡Oye! ¡Un artículo tan agradable! ¡Realmente como ello! ¿A propósito, ha pensado alguna vez en hacerse un escritor freelance? ¡Trabajo para Muchosensayos durante dos años y lo considero como el mejor trabajo en mi vida! Tal vez va a amarlo también.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Well, at least we can have the satisfaction that since Ryan broke all his promises and was a complete failure at his job, he'll leave penniless and with no hope of future employment or earnings.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Cut spending?
    But all the politicians' cronies might go broke.
    Oh, the horror.
    The horror!

  • JonFrum||

    Spending went through the roof under Bush II - repubs need to stfu about cutting spending until after their first balanced budget.

  • mferguson||

    Who killed the deficit hawks? you and me? Sorry, NO, it wasn't you or me... it was "them", the unthinking idiots who believe what their legislators say, instead of checking how they voted... and the voters who go to the polls and check off a name that sounds familiar, because they didn't do any research, but feel obligated to "Go Vote", "Your Vote, Your Voice", "Rock the Vote" and other inane slogans designed to swell the voting booths with sheeple and dilute the power of those who actually put some thought into their votes... you and me.

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