What Do We Want to Be? Part II – Fiscal Responsibility

There is no bigger joke in the body politic of the United States than when a Republican touts “fiscal responsibility.” They have no concept of what it means to be fiscally responsible and they treat tax dollars as both the product of massive thievery as well as their own personal lucre, which they are allowed to do with as they wish.

It’s especially hilarious when they complain about the national debt and deficits. It’s funny because they are responsible for virtually all of the debt and whenever they’re in charge, they explode the budget deficit and force us into borrowing massive amounts of money to pay for those activities we want the government to perform. For example, most of our lives would be hell without Social Security and Medicare; we would all have to care for our parents and our kids would have to eventually take care of us without them. Those two trust funds we have set up for both have never added a dime to any deficit and they have never contributed to the debt. And yet, Republicans have spent most of the last 40 years running up the deficit and using the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to make the deficit look smaller.

In other words, the Republican Party loves to whine about the debt, but they think nothing of borrowing against the trust funds, which puts them in greater danger than otherwise would be the case.

What does it mean to be fiscally responsible with government? It means making sure your government is collecting enough revenue to pay for everything you want them to do, as well as everything they need to do. That means keeping taxes high enough to pay for everything, including a reasonable amount on “defense,” or protection, as well as critical programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. And since climate change is a fact and it’s happening, we should be doing all we can to alleviate that, and also deal with its effects in the meantime, including increasing numbers of devastating storms and increasing instances of wildfire.

The Republican Party, however, has no concept of fiscal responsibility. Hell; they don’t seem to accept responsibility for anything. However, on the fiscal side, this is getting dangerous. For fiscal year 2017, our budget deficit was $662 billion, and yet, for 2018 and beyond, the GOP fell all over themselves to pass a tax bill that adds at least $1.5 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years. And that number is, pardon the expression, conservative. It uses economic growth figures that are absurd; averaging between 3-4% per year in GDP growth. In the history of this republic, we have never sustained that kind of GDP growth over ten years. Ever. More than likely, we will be returned to deficits of $1 trillion per year, which is about 5% of GDP per year. Call me crazy, but when the debt increases faster than GDP growth, there’s a problem.

That is especially a problem when the economy is doing well. And this marks the most irresponsible aspect of the GOP approach to economy. When the economy is doing well, you should reduce the debt or even run a surplus and save for that rainy day we all know is coming. You’re supposed to run deficits only when the economy is in the crapper. At one time, we liberals and Democrats designed a government that takes care of us when we hit difficult economic times through no fault of our own. We are supposed to get unemployment when we lose our jobs due to cutbacks or layoffs, in part because we pay for that. We also get workers’ compensation when we are injured on the job. Again, it’s because we pay for that. Likewise, we get at least some retirement money and health insurance after we have finished our career, because we pay for that, too.

We pay taxes to pay for the benefits we get from our government. That includes roads and schools, bridges and public transportation, but it also includes a court system and law enforcement system that protects us from criminals and gives us a forum when we have a dispute with someone else. Paying taxes is as much a civi duty as serving on a jury or voting. Yet, when you listen to Republicans talk about taxes, they talk about “confiscation” and they try to cut them. of course, they only cut taxes for those who can already afford to pay them.

When you see a “president” like Lord Donny or George W. Bush talk about cutting taxes at a time when we are borrowing roughly 20 percent of our federal budget, that is purely irresponsible. When you see them raising the defense budget or starting a war or two at the same time they are talking about tax cuts for the very rich, that is purely irresponsible. When Lord Donny took office, the deficit for FY2017 was already projected to reach $550 billion, but ended up around $660 billion. In part, that is because the interest we pay on the debt already accrued runs about $450 billion. Given that more than 90% of that $450 billion is due to Republicans cutting taxes while spending like drunken sailors, one would think they would be more concerned about this problem, but then, that would require them to be fiscally responsible and they are not that at all.

As liberals, we should want to create a nation that is fiscally responsible. That means electing Democrats. Fiscal responsibility doesn’t just mean collecting the taxes we need to pay for everything; it also means using our tax money to help those who find themselves in difficult circumstances, and to prevent economic tragedy when we can.

For example, the Affordable Care Act is purely fiscally responsible. It keeps health insurance affordable for almost everyone, which means medical bills get paid. That means doctors and hospitals always get paid and no one has to pick up the slack for anyone else without insurance. Killing them health insurance mandate is purely irresponsible, because it’s based on an assumption that healthy people don’t need insurance because they will never get sick or injured. What will happen is, healthy people will forego insurance, their bills won’t get paid and caregivers will have to raise prices to make up for those who can’t pay. That means everyone else’s medical costs will rise, their insurance premiums will rise, and we will eventually go back to the system we had before, which was unsustainable.

It is also fiscally responsible to put together a comprehensive welfare system. It is a fact that capitalism requires a steady supply of available workers, which means there will always be a number of people unable to get a job. Those people still need to spend money to keep the economy moving, so we should always have a safety net in place for those people. Will some people abuse that? Of course. However, right now, we have a situation in which three quarters of people living in poverty have no access to cash assistance. If you want to know why crime seems high in this country, well, that’s a pretty good reason.

The fiscal irresponsibility of Republicans extends to many areas. For example, the crippling debt our government puts people in when they decide to go to college and make themselves hirable is one of the great shames of our society. The problem is, Republicans seem incapable of seeing any government spending as “investment.” And that, my friends, is fiscally irresponsible. Everything we spend in our lives carries with it a return of some sort. Yet, when the GOP runs our government, they pinch our pennies and don’t care about the return. They cut funds to states, the states then increase tuition. They cut funds available for student financial aid and force them to borrow more money at high interest rates, and then penalize them when they cannot pay.

Think about that a minute. An inner city kid borrows $75,000 to attend a state school for four years, so they can make more from their career, and pay more taxes. Yet, in the GOP view of government, the increased taxes aren’t enough, so they also have to charge interest and assess penalties on the money they are forced to borrow because Republicans cut their availability.

That is not fiscally responsible. It’s especially irresponsible when you are cutting the taxes of the corporation that may end up hiring this person. In other words, how is it in any way responsible to burden new taxpayer with higher taxes, interest and fees, while giving their employer a break? And please don’t tell me that’s “trickle-down” because ”supply side economics” has never worked anytime the GOP has tried it. And let’s face it; when you keep applying the same tired theories to economics, even after they are proven non-starters, how is that responsible?

It’s time for government to always be fiscally responsible. That means a government that invests in everything from people to alternative fuels, to mitigation of climate change, to helping our people recover from disaster, natural or otherwise, and to do everything to make sure no one ever has to go bankrupt for getting sick. Cut taxes during hard times and raise them when times are good. Put money away for hard times and recognize that hard time always come.

Vote Democratic and we’ll return to the fiscal responsibility that used to be the hallmark of the progressive movement.

Also published on Medium.

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