Fiscal Responsibility, part II
I don’t understand how Conor can say this with a straight face:
You’d think after rightly complaining about the Bush Administration’s unprecedented irresponsibility for eight years, leading Democrats would understand that we’re trapped in a terrible hole, but instead they just keep digging, figuring that while they’re in power, why not lobby for a massive new health care entitlement, game its scoring to make its cost seem more palatable to voters, and pay for it by pretending that it won’t cost any more than what we currently spend. […]
Republicans may be full of it when they promise that if returned to power they’ll cut spending and pay down the debt, but at least they recognize the need for those measures, and that they’re an appropriate priority.
The reflexive, evidence-free dismissal of the CBO scores (High Broderism at its finest) at the beginning of Conor’s post is enough to convince me that he isn’t actually interested in hearing liberal ideas for bringing the United States back on a firm fiscal footing. That said, it’s worth reminding Conor that in the three decades since the Republican Party became the dominant political coalition in American politics, the deficit has been reduced exactly once, and that was during Bill Clinton’s presidency. All three Republican presidents of the “conservative era” – Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush – were responsible for significant increases in the deficit, and in the case of the latter, a tremendous increase in the overall national debt.
Here’s a graph that illustrates the point (I found the data here):
Moreover, it’s not even really accurate to say that Republicans recognize the need to reduce spending, and Democrats don’t (by implication). The Obama administration’s central conceit on health care reform has been that absent systemic change in the way we deliver and pay for health care, the United States is facing fiscal ruin. As such, the only real requirement the administration has for health care reform – as per Peter Orszag – is that it “bends the curve.” We’ve heard more about cost controls and deficit reduction from this Democratic administration than we did in eight years of the previous Republican one. Indeed, if there’s been anything notable about nearly every major Democratic policy proposal we’ve seen this year, it’s that both congressional Democrats and the White House have been adamant that they pay for themselves at least in part.
I hate to be super partisan about this, but it’s one of those situations where you can’t actually avoid it. The simple fact is that while neither party is perfect, Democrats at least have something of a claim to the mantle of “fiscally responsible.” President Clinton was the first president in a generation to balance the budget, and President Obama’s economic team shows an obvious concern for the long-term fiscal viability of the United States. They’re just also concerned about not letting the United States fall into economic ruin, hence the various stimulus-related deficits.
On that note, I want to make one last point: when considering Republican and Democratic deficits, you can’t make a one-to-one comparison without also thinking about the actual content of spending. Or, to borrow from a post I wrote a long time ago at my own blog:
Spending trillions of dollars financing a massive reinvention of our transportation infrastructure – an unquestionable public good – is a lot different then spending trillions on say, video games. Which, while awesome, aren’t exactly a wise investment (I’m looking at you Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear). The real measure of fiscal responsibility isn’t deficit spending as much as it is the return on said spending. If President Obama’s spending puts the country on a sustainable fiscal footing in the long-term, even if it is significant, it will be far more “responsible” than President Bush’s comparatively smaller, but overall disastrous, spending.