Back in 2009, in the midst of the greatest recession in 80 years, with 800,000 Americans losing their jobs each month, congressional Republicans refused to support a major economic stimulus package needed to pull the country back from the brink.
It was, they explained, a matter of principle.
Even with the nation teetering on economic depression — “this sucker could go down,” as President Bush had earlier put it — Republicans simply could not support legislation that would increase the deficit. It was a line they would not cross, because it defined them as a party.
Eight years later, with the economy recovered, the jobless rate low and the stock market purring along nicely, their principled concern about the deficit suddenly vanished. The economic stimulus that they would not consider at a moment of dire national need under a Democrat, they rushed to enact under a Republican.
At a pricetag of $1.5 trillion in additional debt, their stimulus plan came in twice as high as the package that they could not support eight years earlier. It also came at a moment in the economic cycle when an injection of cheap money was not only unnecessary but downright dangerous, substantially increasing the odds of inflation and rising interest rates.
Some of the consequences are already apparent. We face annual deficits of more than $1 trillion, even in good times when revenues are strong and when we ought to be repairing our finances. Should the economy falter — as it will at some point — those deficits will skyrocket. Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office warned that because of the tax cuts, we will run up against the national debt ceiling in early March, much earlier than predicted.
So why this, and why now? Because Donald Trump needed a “win.” That is the level of seriousness that our national leaders now demonstrate.
Let’s be clear: This is not money that is “being returned to the American taxpayer.” That is a gross deceit, and the proof sits in black and white and red on the nation’s balance sheets. The money that we are using to further enrich corporations already reporting their highest after-tax profits in history, the hundreds of billions that we’re handing to rich Americans already enjoying concentrations of wealth not seen since just before the Great Depression, is money that we are borrowing from — taking from — our children and grandchildren.
In the past few days, we have witnessed a bit of a challenge in the stock market, driven by concerns of an overheating economy. This may prove to be a temporary blip. It might be something more serious.
What we do know is that sooner or later, debts incurred must be repaid. We also know that our governing political party has abandoned pretenses of principle and policymaking in service to its new leader. Whatever contorted position is required to maintain their loyalty to Trump, that is the contorted position that they will take.
A party that had long detested the Russia of Vladimir Putin suddenly treats Moscow with deference. The party that championed free trade and global commerce now preaches trade barriers and economic warfare. The party of traditional values and the sanctity of marriage now embraces as its moral leader a man who cheated on his pregnant third wife with a porn star, later paying her $130,000 in hush money. And the party that took pride in defending law enforcement now launches groundless attacks on the FBI rather than risk learning the truth.
Party on, boys. Party on.