Bipartisan Irresponsibility

Dr. Malcolm Cross

It’s become fashionable to bemoan the inability of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to cooperate in many public policy areas.  They’re unable to reach agreements on health care policy, immigration policy, environmental policy, confirmation of judges, etc., etc., etc.  But there is one point on which there is truly bipartisan accord—the desire to be as fiscally irresponsible as they can get away with.

Of course, nobody is going to admit to wanting to run our finances into the ground.  But politicians of both parties know that promises to cut taxes, or increase spending, or both are good politics if not sound economic or fiscal policy.  Therefore, rather than confront reality, each side seeks to develop myths to justify policies which make no fiscal sense.

Take the Republicans.  For years, those in the fever swamps of the radical right have told us that cutting taxes will do one of either two things:  Either stimulate economic growth so huge and rapid that it will generate more than enough revenue to make up for revenue lost in tax cuts, or produce such huge deficits that Congress and the President will be forced to cut spending.

Now it’s perfectly true that tax cuts have been followed by economic growth, but so, too, have tax increases as well.  And since the 1980s growth has never generated enough revenue to keep up with spending increases, especially to cover mandatory spending for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt.  So the debt keeps growing and politicians, rather than feeling fear that it might get out of hand, simply borrow more money.  After all, there’s no constitutional requirement that the federal budget be balanced.  In fact, there’s no constitutional requirement that we have a budget, balanced or not, at all.  Indeed, the words “balanced” and “budget” are nowhere in the Constitution.

But Democrats, in their own way, are just as irresponsible as Republicans.  They talk a good game of promoting fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets when the GOP has the White House (and the Republicans also blather on about fiscal responsibility when a Democrat is president).  But when Democrats are unfettered with responsibility, they offer their own pie-in-the-sky proposals—Medicare for all, tuition-free college, etc., while offering no realistic proposal to pay for them other than demagogic cries to “tax the rich!”  The problem, of course, is that their ideas could require an additional forty trillion dollars in spending over the next ten years, requiring either higher taxes to pay for their programs or more borrowing to finance them and higher taxes to pay the additional interest, if not principle, on the national debt, which is currently twenty one trillion dollars and rising.

I mention all this now because the public phase of the 2020 presidential campaign is now gearing up (the private, behind-the-curtains phase has been going on for quite some time) and for the next two years we, the people, will be fed a steady stream of drivel from both Democrats and Republicans alike as they seek to sell their souls and their country for four to eight years in the Oval Office.  We’ll hear a surfeit of proposals from the right to cut taxes with no clue as to how to cut spending, as well as more nonsense from the left advocating more spending with no responsible discussion on how to pay for it.  

And what can we do about it?  For starters, we can refuse to vote for anyone who tells you lower taxes will yield enough revenue to cover rising expenditures, or anyone who tells you we can keep increasing our spending without having to pay for it.  And who knows?  Someday we’ll be willing to vote for politicians of both parties who tell us what they want, what it will cost, and admit that if you want something from government, somebody has to pay for it.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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