When conservatives want to scare people into thinking we can’t afford basic social programs, there’s one thing they love to harp on: the public deficit. How can we guarantee healthcare to the people when we have so much debt?, they argue. But while that reasoning may be compelling to those whose worldview is filtered through a Fox News lens, Obama’s presidency has proven that bigger government does not mean bigger deficit – although no Republican will admit it, the public deficit has in fact shrunk by $1 trillion under Obama’s leadership, while at the same time programs like healthcare and education have expanded.
The Treasury Department reports that the fiscal year that ended September 30th witnessed the lowest deficit of Obama’s presidency – $439 billion, which is nine percent lower than last year, and over a trillion dollars lower than the $1.4 trillion that we saw the year Obama took office. These figures strike a death blow to the kind of “austerity” policies that conservatives want to impose.
Despite this impressive achievement, it’s startling how ignorant the Republicans are about the deficit. In 2013, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “What I would say is extreme is a trillion-dollar deficit every year.” What’s wrong with that statement? Well, the deficit in 2013 was well below $1 trillion.
The Tea Party rose to power by stoking the public’s fears about a ballooning deficit, and they continue to ring the alarm despite the fact that this “balloon” is quickly running out of air. In March 2015, teaparty.org published an article claiming that “spending and deficits are back on upward trajectories,” being driven by “soaring entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.” Not only is it ridiculous to think of healthcare and basic retirement insurance as “entitlements” (people pay in to social security), the article reinforces the idea that the only way to way to keep the country afloat is by cutting all services to poor people, sick people, and the middle class.
Republicans have been having a field day with the spending proposals of Democratic presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. During this week’s debate, which focused on income inequality and education rather than xenophobia and fear-mongering, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted the “hilarious” remark: “I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador!” But while the Democrats are fully prepared to compensate for their spending by forcing rich corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, it’s actually the Republicans, with their massive tax cuts to the wealthy, who stand to drive the deficit up to untold heights.
When Donald Trump rolled out his tax plan, which involves tax cuts for everyone, but primarily for the top earners, it was reported that his plan would end up costing $12 trillion over the next decade. Similarly, the Tax Foundation reports that Jeb Bush’s tax policy, which also involves massive tax cuts for the wealthy, “would increase the federal government’s deficit both on a static and dynamic basis.” The Congressional Budget Office has also found that the Republicans’ proposal to eliminate the estate tax “would add nearly $270 billion to federal deficits.”
Where are the alarm bells for the reckless tax cuts proposed by the Republican candidates? Sadly, the public remains severely misinformed about the nature of the public deficit, and so the Tea Party, along with Fox News, can continue to spread lies about the effects of Obama’s policies, encouraging their supporters to give up basic protections like social security so that billionaires can pay less taxes.
The U.S. is, once again, quickly approaching its debt limit, and federal government funding is set to expire in December. As the Republicans will surely use this as an opportunity to push their agenda while bringing the country to the brink of default, it’s essential to be aware of the facts – it’s possible to provide expanding social benefits to the public and reduce the deficit at the same time. Who knew?
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.