Now Mitch McConnell wants massive cuts to social programs after GOP blew up the deficit

It's an old story: Republicans give money to the rich, act surprised about the deficit and vow to slash spending

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 17, 2018 10:30AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Mitch McConnell (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Yesterday President Trump called Stormy Daniels "Horseface" in a tweet and it wasn't the dumbest thing he said all day. In fact, it wasn't even the dumbest thing he wrote in that tweet. He closed it with "she knows nothing about me, a total con." In truth, she certainly does know he's a total con, as do most of the people in this country. Nonetheless, for all of Trump's hustles and scams, he is an amateur compared to the Republican Party, which has been committing a massive fraud on the United States for more than 30 years.

It's a simple scheme, really. Whenever they control the government they immediately pass massive tax cuts and massive increases in military spending, always promising that the wealthy and the corporations will pour all that money back into the economy and it will end up increasing revenues because of all the growth it will stimulate. But it never does.

It's actually quite brilliant because the real goal isn't just to give tax cuts to the rich and spend huge sums of money on the military. It's also to run up the debt so Republicans can turn around and wring their hands over the need to be "fiscally responsible" and force the government to cut spending on programs they don't like. They are specifically hostile to what they call "entitlements": the big-ticket items of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

They have wanted to end those programs ever since they were enacted, but this debt scam was cooked up in the 1980s when all the smart young Reaganites came to Washington. They tagged the Democrats as "tax-and-spend liberals" (now it's "socialists") so that whenever the Democrats finally come back into power, anxious to be seen as responsible stewards of the economy, they are immediately on the defensive. Republicans screech in unison that the entitlements are all going to break the bank and they must be cut or the sky will fall. Unfortunately, the political media join the chorus, beating their chests about how the people must "take their medicine" and "face up to the truth" that the country simply cannot afford to take care of the old and sick anymore. Pundits and journalists seem to take particular pleasure in lecturing their audience about how they'll have to "sacrifice" for the greater good and tut-tut all the supposedly irresponsible liberal politicians who are unwilling to tell them the "truth."

In recent years the con has been complicated by the fact that the GOP constituency is aging rapidly, making it necessary to blame Democrats for any possible cuts. That makes it a bit of a challenge, although not as much as you might think. Bill Clinton seriously considered a privatization scheme and Barack Obama famously put Social Security cuts on the table as part of his "Grand Bargain" with then-House Speaker John Boehner, which only failed because the Tea Party refused to take yes for an answer.

Still, for the most part, Democrats have held the line. When George W. Bush began his second term with a plan to use his "political capital" to privatize Social Security with the help of a massive grassroots campaign, Democrats beat it back. Furthermore, the concept of privatizing the Social Security system by investing in the stock market was thoroughly discredited just a few years later when the financial crisis hit and half of Wall Street went out of business.

But now Republicans are right back at the same game. The latest deficit projections are stunning. According to the New York Times:

The deficit rose nearly 17 percent year over year, from $666 billion in 2017. It is now on pace to top $1 trillion a year before the next presidential election, according to forecasts from the Trump administration and outside analysts. The deficit for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, was the largest since 2012, when the economy and federal revenues were still recovering from the depths of the recession.

The federal government should run a large deficit when the economy is in that kind of crisis. But when it's humming as it is now, not so much. That's how it's supposed to work anyway, at least according to standard Keynesian economic principles.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about this massive deficit on Tuesday and said, “It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem. It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

It's as if those tax cuts and hikes in military spending never happened. In fact, that's exactly how they're going to frame it.

McConnell said at the time the GOP tax bill was enacted, “I not only don’t think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue-neutral. In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed the tax plan would "pay for itself with economic growth." They were wrong of course. Everyone knew that at the time because they've recited these same lines before and it never happens. We've had several real-life experiments to prove it.

Republicans will of course just lie and cover up their role in this huge expansion of the deficit, which shouldn't happen in a time of full employment and major corporate profits. From the way many commentators jumped into their old lines about "sacrifice" and "debt" like they were a pair of comfortable old slippers they forgot were under the bed, conservatives won't have much trouble getting that meme back into circulation.

When asked about McConnell's comments, President Trump told the Associated Press that he knew nothing about cutting Social Security and didn't plan to do it explaining that the increase in the deficit was due to natural disasters:

We also have tremendous numbers with regard to hurricanes and fires and the tremendous forest fires all over. We had very big numbers, unexpectedly big numbers. California does a horrible job maintaining their forests. They’re going to have to start doing a better job or we’re not going to be paying them. They are doing a horrible job of maintaining what they have. And we had big numbers on tremendous numbers with the forest fires and obviously the hurricanes. We got hit in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Georgia. Georgia was hit very hard this time. Nobody even, you know, treats that one fairly. The farmers got hit very, very hard.

So at least for the moment, the "entitlement" programs are probably safe. Somehow that isn't particularly comforting.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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