2017 Budget Signals Return of “Big Government” Republicans

The Republican Party has a spending addiction. Though they now control all elected branches of the federal government, their first order of business appears to be a return to business as usual under the Bush Administration—starting with reneging on any promise they made to balance the budget. Worse, they are doing so through trickery, deception, and distraction.

The distraction is as clever as it is simple. For years, Republican leaders have promised—truthfully or not—that they would repeal Obamacare at the first opportunity. Repealing Obamacare was the raison d’etre of the early Tea Party. Repealing Obamacare was the rallying cry of voters who swung sixty-three House seats to the GOP in 2010. And as Republican leaders know well, repealing Obamacare is an obligation that their constituents will not soon forget, or forgive if not accomplished.

And so, they intend to use repealing Obamacare (in name, not even in actuality) as a great curtain behind which they hope to hide a whole host of poor policies. They have tied the Obamacare repeal to the 2017 budget, which never balances.  Instead, the Republican budget is projected to expand the national debt by $9 trillion dollars by 2027 and, unlike recent Republican budgets, increases the deficit rather than reducing it.

By tying the two together, Republican leaders expect the decadence of their spending habits to go unnoticed and relatively unopposed. So long as they are repealing Obamacare, they hope to distract their constituents from the exorbitant spending. Moreover, they can use repealing Obamacare as political blackmail to hamstring the budget’s opponents into giving Republican leadership everything it wants. To oppose the bill is to support Obamacare, or so the Republican leaders hope the narrative to go. They have already begun their slander against Rand Paul, the bill’s sole Republican opponent in the Senate. One can expect that they will do the same to the bill’s opponents in the House, such as Justin Amash. And it is to the credit of Rand Paul and Justin Amash that this story is receiving any attention at all. Without their fortitude, the budget’s truly awful extent would likely still be a virtual unknown.

The press is already serving as an unwitting accomplice. News outlets are flooding the airwaves and social media with headlines about Obamacare’s impending “repeal,” paying no mind to the outlandish scope of the underlying budget. Republican politicians are equally prolific in producing self-congratulatory press releases, hoping that their constituents back home will be too drunk on victory to notice the multi-trillion-dollar heist happening beneath their noses.

But Republican voters and voters generally must not let themselves be so easily deceived. Republican leadership remains in the grips of compromising centrists whose only object is power. Just as the Republicans under George W. Bush deepened the national debt, expanded socialized medicine (in the form of Medicare Part D), and meddled in fruitless conflicts on the other end of the globe, so do the Republicans presently in power—many of whom still linger from the Bush Administration—seek to return to their former power. Now that they have regained power, they hope that they can haggle freely with the Democrats for power as once they did, without serious threat of primary challenges or of rebellion from the base. And with the election of a man as morally and politically malleable as Donald Trump to the presidency, voters have given them reason to believe that such things are attainable.

Nevertheless, they must not be attained. Voters must hold the Republicans in Congress to account. After years of opposing President Obama’s excesses, to what does that opposition amount if the Republicans are permitted to indulge in the same abuses of their power? Though the Republican leadership has sought to cleverly obscure such abuses, they have not obscured their betrayal cleverly enough. As the late Justice Scalia once said with his typical literary flair, policies such as these are often clothed in sheep’s clothing, “but this wolf comes as a wolf.” It is up to voters to ensure that the wolf is slain.

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