When the Trump tax cut was on the verge of being enacted, I called it “the biggest tax scam in history,” and made a prediction: Deficits would soar, and when they did, Republicans would once again pretend to care about debt and demand cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Sure enough, the deficit is soaring. And this week Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, after declaring the surge in red ink “very disturbing,” called for, you guessed it, cuts in “Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.” He also suggested that Republicans might repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Anyone asking why Republicans believed claims that the tax cut would pay for itself is being naive. Whatever they may have said, they never actually believed that the tax cut would be deficit-neutral; they pushed for a tax cut because it was what wealthy donors wanted and because their posturing as deficit hawks was always fraudulent.
That said, even I have been surprised by a couple of things about the Republican budget bait-and-switch. I knew Donald Trump and his allies would be dishonest, but I didn’t expect the lies to be as baldfaced as they are.
What are they lying about? For starters, about the causes of a sharply higher deficit, which they claim is the result of higher spending, not lost revenue. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, even tried to claim that the deficit is up because of the costs of hurricane relief.
The flimsy justification for such claims is that in dollar terms, federal revenue over the past year is slightly up from the previous year, while spending is about 3 percent higher.
But that’s a junk argument, and everyone knows it. Both revenue and spending normally grow every year thanks to inflation, population growth and other factors.
Dishonesty about the sources of the deficit is, however, more or less a standard Republican tactic. What’s new is the double talk that pervades Republican positioning on the budget and, to be fair, just about every major policy issue.
What do I mean by double talk? Well, consider the fact that even as McConnell blames “entitlements” for deficits, and declares (falsely) that Medicare in particular is “unsustainable,” Paul Ryan’s super PAC has been running ads accusing Democrats of wanting to cut Medicare. The cynicism is breathtaking.
But then, it’s no more cynical than the behavior of Republicans like Dean Heller, Josh Hawley and even Ted Cruz who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which protects Americans with pre-existing medical conditions, or supported a lawsuit trying to strip that protection out of the act, and are now running on the claim that they want to … protect people with pre-existing conditions.
The point is that we’re now in a political campaign where one side’s claimed position on every major policy issue is the opposite of its true position.
But let’s be clear: Republican cynicism also involves a lot of contempt for the mainstream news media. Historically, media organizations have been remarkably unwilling to call out lies; the urge to play it safe with he-said-she-said reporting has very much worked to Republicans’ advantage, given the reality that the modern GOP lies a lot more than Democrats do.
Anyway, at this point Republicans are proclaiming that war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and the party that keeps trying to kill Medicare is actually the program’s greatest defender.
Can a campaign this dishonest actually win? We’ll find out in less than three weeks.
Writes for The New York Times.