As Donald Trump rose to the top of the Republican power structure in 2016 and 2017, several Republican senators have boosted their national profiles by denouncing his various actions as irrational and authoritarian.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake have repeatedly been hailed by desperate grassroots Democrats for occasionally speaking out against Trump. During the lead-up to this morning's mini-government shutdown, however, all three senators revealed that their critiques of the president have really been about opposing Trump from the far-right.
We also learned another thing: conservatives only care about deficits when it comes to increasing spending. They don't care about them when it comes to cutting taxes. It is remarkable how quickly Republicans have reverted to their basic policy approach from 2001-2006: big tax cuts plus spending increases.
After Paul used a procedural loophole to shut down the government for a few hours after midnight, all three senators voted against the last-minute bipartisan budget continuing resolution on the grounds of its proposal to increase federal spending by $300 billion over the next two years. But not even three months earlier, all three also voted for a tax reduction proposal that the Congressional Budget Office said would increase the federal budget deficit by $1.4 trillion over ten years.
"Fiscal responsibility is more than a political talking point to trot out when the other guys are in charge," Flake said during a Senate floor speech which denounced "reckless spending" but did not discuss his earlier vote for an even larger, unfunded tax cut.
Sasse was similarly unwilling to discuss his vote to increase the deficit for tax reductions, in a statement which criticized the measure that President Donald Trump signed this morning:
"This bill is too expensive and too unwilling to prioritize. Yes, we need more spending on defense. But no, we do not need more across-the-board spending on every single government program every single bureaucrat ever imagined."
Unlike Flake and Sasse, Paul was willing to admit that Republicans were being hypocritical -- but only on deficit spending under former president Barack Obama.
"If you were against President Obama's deficits and now you're for the Republican deficits, isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy?" he asked during a floor speech of his own.
Paul did address the topic of tax cuts in a later part of his hour-long disquisition that tried to justify increasing the national debt as justifiable solely on ideological grounds:
And some have said 'well how can you be a deficit hawk if you voted for the tax cut?' Well one, because I think you own your labor, you own the fruits of your labor. You own all of it. You give up some of your labor to live in a civilized world.
And so my question to you is that everything you make, everything you own, everything that comes from the sweat of your brow and the work of your hands is yours. And if you give up some, you're giving up your liberty. And you give up a little bit of your liberty you give up a little bit [of] your wages to live in a civilized world, to have law and order and have some government. So I'm OK with that.
But I ask you, do you want to give up more or less? Do you want to give up a hundred percent of your paycheck or do you want to give up ten percent of your paycheck?
We should always be about minimizing government so taxes really are about how much of your liberty you get to keep, how much of the liberty to continue spending your own money.
And the other side of the ledger is spending.
At least Paul bothered to offer a rationale for his contradictory actions. Sasse and Flake don't respect their fellow Americans enough to even offer any sort of explanation.