When Republicans passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they knew it was projected to add $1.5 trillion to budget deficits over the next 10 years. They did it anyway.
Many Democrats pointed out the hypocrisy of the GOP embracing budget deficits after purporting to decry them for so many years under President Barack Obama. Others warned that driving up the deficit was all part of a calculated plan to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
How are the Republicans trying to carry out that plan? Basically, by creating the fiscal equivalent of the migrant caravan.
After voting for the tax legislation, Arkansas Republican Steve Womack, chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounded the fiscal alarm. “The time is now for Congress to step up and confront the biggest challenge to our society,” he said. “There is not a bigger enemy on the domestic side than the debt and deficits.”
It does no good to remind Republicans that their tax cuts added trillions to future debt and deficits (nor does it matter all that much). They’re not having any of that. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained to Bloomberg last month, “It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem.” Entitlements, he said, are “the real drivers of the debt,” and the only way to deal with the looming crisis is “to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”
Ratcheting up the threat level is national security adviser John Bolton, who recently warned that entitlements are pushing the debt to unsustainable levels, where we will ultimately face “a national security consequence.”
Yes, Republicans want us to believe that entitlements — like the caravan of Central Americans headed toward the U.S. — are a creeping threat to our national security.
In the case of the caravan, most Democrats vigorously rejected the narrative. They called it out for what it was — a political stunt designed to garner support for military action to defend the border from a manufactured threat. When Republicans make the case for cutting entitlements in the name of defending our nation from fiscal ruin, Democrats should respond with the same skepticism. The whole thing is a hoax.
The problem is that instead of countering the Republican narrative with unassailable facts, Democrats are helping to cement the idea that there is a fiscal caravan.
By telling voters that Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to “pay for” their tax cuts, Democrats are unwittingly lending credibility to the idea that cutting entitlements is one way to escape a fiscal dilemma.
Here’s what they should be saying instead.
First, there is no long-run fiscal crisis — the Republicans are making it up. They rely on the Congressional Budget Office’s long-term budget outlook to create the caravan effect. By focusing on the blue line in the chart below, Republicans claim that programs like Social Security and Medicare have us on an unsustainable trajectory.
As Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, has shown, the blue line assumes that the federal government will begin borrowing to cover shortfalls once the trust funds for Social Security and Medicare Part A are depleted. There’s just one problem — it can’t happen under current law.