Opinion Columns & Blogs

Will GOP end love affair with deficits?

Smith
Smith

Republicans were once married to balanced budgets and conservative money management, but now they have run off with something new: the seduction of tax cuts and budget deficits.

They try to cover up the truth about their new relationship by cooking the books. Kansas’ own Dwight Eisenhower would be appalled.

President Eisenhower presided over the last period when the U.S. ran budget surpluses for several years in a row. To fund this, the top tax rate for some high-earning Americans exceeded 90 percent. When President Kennedy backed legislation to drop that rate to about 70 percent, Eisenhower spoke against it, arguing that it would explode the deficit.

A few decades later, President Reagan commissioned the W.R. Grace Commission Report, the first of a long series of warnings, reminding Americans to prepare for the impending (now current) retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, which would create (is creating) a demographic bulge straining Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (particularly long-term care) and the nation’s overall health care system.

Then, Republicans ditched predictable old deficit-reduction policies for the sexy appeal of tax cuts and deficits: the real priority of Reagan, President George W. Bush, and many congressional Republicans from the 1980s onward.

Since Sam Brownback was elected governor in 2010, they have brought their new love to Kansas.

Once, moderate Republican governors such as Robert Bennett, Mike Hayden and Bill Graves proudly presided over conservatively managed, balanced budgets. Today, Kansas’ budget is balanced in name only: trust funds have been drained, future payments leveraged, and highway bonds misused to create the illusion of a balanced budget that may technically pass legal muster but will spell disaster down the road.

Honestly, the thrill is gone.

Now President Trump proposes massive public works projects (including the border wall), plus cuts to top tax rates. Trump’s signature phrase perfectly describes the accompanying deficit increase: It is going to be huge.

The anti-Brownback Republicans elected in 2016 are sounding some rather Eisenhower-like talk about a return to responsible budgeting. But can they give up their party’s love affair with deficit spending?

Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.

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