With Democrat Joe Biden about to assume the presidency, Republicans by and large are suddenly getting budget deficit religion once again, even though with Donald Trump in the White House, they managed to sweep those concerns aside.
They did that when they approved the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, jacking up the deficit by almost $2 trillion. That, of course, was because Trump wanted that legislation passed and because it would benefit their core constituency, the well-to-do. Never mind that some day in the distant future that tab will come due.
But with millions of Americans desperate for financial help because of the pandemic, America can't afford it. People don't have enough to eat. People are losing their homes. People can't pay their bills. They don't know where to turn. Isn't that when the government is supposed to step up?
Balancing the budget and avoiding deficit spending once was the religion of the GOP. But then Donald Trump rode into Washington in his gilded carriage, didn't give a crap about the deficit as long as he would benefit either politically or materially, and seeking to appease him and his base, Republicans went along.
The Trump tax cut combined with increased federal spending resulting from the economic collapse caused by the pandemic have jacked up the deficit from $14.4 trillion when President Obama left office to more than $21 trillion.
Now, however, once Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are finally inaugurated on January 20, Trump will be on his way out of town. Suddenly some Republicans have found their penny pinching balls, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leading the way.
That is most evident with the willingness of McConnell and many other GOP senators to stand up to Trump and refuse to pass the House-approved bill to increase the $600 per person Covid relief payment to $2,000 per person. Amazingly, the budget deficit worries have returned, no matter that millions of Americans are in desperate financial straits due to the impact of the pandemic.
"I don't want to hear that we can't afford it. I don't want to hear that it would add too much to the deficit," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) as he demanded that McConnell bring the House-passed measure to a vote on the Senate floor.
Trump tried mightily to pressure Senate Republicans to go along with the increase, and threatened those who oppose him with reprisals. Nevertheless, McConnell said "No."
McConnell was even sleazier than that.
He fashioned alternate legislation that would combine the $2,000 per person payment with language to repeal the liability protections for social media giants and create a new commission to study election fraud. That, however, was nothing more than a 'poison pill," which the wily old McConnell knew would result in Democrat opposition, while giving Republican senators the opportunity to vote for the higher payment realizing that it would be defeated in the Democrat-controlled House.
That was just another typical McConnell cynical political ploy designed to appease Trump while achieving nothing.
This sudden return to fiscal conservatism on the part of Republicans can be expected to continue during Biden's presidency, and if the Senate remains under GOP control (depending on the results of the Georgia runoff) one can assume the new president will face substantial roadblocks in getting his major initiatives approved by Congress, especially those with significant price tags.
Moreover, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid can be expected to be targeted by deficit hawks, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who will chair the Senate Budget Committee if the GOP retains its majority. Graham has been on the entitlement rampage for a while now.
“Fix entitlements… We’re in debt because we made promises we can’t keep to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. That’s why we’re in debt,” he said on Fox News in July, 2019. There is no reason to believe Graham has changed his mind, and every reason to believe those programs would have faced cuts had Trump won the White House and Republicans gained control of the House.
So, now we'll see what happens once Trump is no longer in power. Will the GOP return to their old time religion of opposing needed spending programs that would increase the deficit? Or will Biden be able to overcome that and get things done for the American people?
One fact is clear, however. Republicans are doing whatever it takes to curry favor and succeed politically. No longer are they a party based on core principles of small government and fiscal integrity. They gave up that mantle when they embraced Donald Trump and everything he stands for.
How long will Trump maintain that hold on the GOP? That remains to be seen. Like I wrote the other day, we all know that mafia bosses have continued to run their organizations from prison. Maybe Trump could, too.