Not branding the Republican Party as the party of fiscal irresponsibility is the greatest failure of the Democratic Party since President Obama won the 2008 election. It has enabled the GOP to frame the numerous major debates over the last four years, from the battle over healthcare reform in 2010 to the debt ceiling crisis of mid-2011 to this year’s sequester. By doing so, Republicans in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy and spending increases for the military have been able to label themselves “deficit hawks” while attacking policies that would significantly improve the US Federal deficit. The hypocrisy seems almost too blatant; there’s no way they could get away with that, right? Wrong. All it takes is some careful selection (and sometimes fudging) of numbers.
For instance, during the debate that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans attempted to disparage the bill as a massive increase in entitlement (read: bad) spending. To do so, they framed the situation using a simple story: it would cost a lot of money to insure 30 million people. While the Republicans were right in that federal spending would increase because of the ACA, they strategically forgot to mention that because of the cuts to Medicare, more efficient fees for doctors, and new revenue included in the act, the Congressional Budget Office and various think tanks determined that it will actually produce a net savings for the government over the next decade. Republicans have been so successful at this framing that the idea of a “public option” has been taken off the table despite the fact that it would save approximately $100 billion dollars over the next ten years.
Even more impressive, the budgets put forth by Paul Ryan over the last few years have managed to get away with reducing the deficit via magic asterisks. Rather than proposing specific cuts to spending (outside of changing Medicare to a voucher program), the budgets state that the government would put a cap on spending as a percentage of the economy. The budgets have also proposed lowering tax rates, payed for by closing loopholes – with no mention of specific loopholes, only that they should be selected so as to maintain the average of bringing in 18 percent of GDP in tax revenue each year. A smart move, considering the fact that the loopholes large enough to make up for the loss in revenue include such popular items as the 401(k) exemption, the mortgage-interest tax deduction, and the deduction for state and local taxes. By not including those cuts in the budgets, Paul Ryan and the House Republicans who pass them are able to make painful cuts to middle class families while keeping themselves free of blame.
The Republican Party will continue to get away with this duplicity until the Democrats openly address it, from freshmen Representatives to the President. If they can turn it into a controversy, the mainstream media and its 24-hour news cycle will do the rest.