Squawking about the nation’s debt after your party spent like drunk sailors on leave is like eating a rib-eye at Ruth’s Chris, then planting a fly under the bone to get a free meal. You ordered and ate the steak, sir. Yes, but I didn’t order the fly that came with it, and don’t you think your prices are obscene?
This same exchange keeps repeating in Washington, where the ultra MAGA Freedom Caucus is, once again, criticizing an expensive steak they already ate, and denying they ordered it in the first place.
Republicans spent a staggering and unprecedented $8 trillion during the Trump administration, and now blame Democrats for the debt. Only four months after Speaker McCarthy reached a debt ceiling agreement, the same thirsty clowns have now twice blocked the GOP’s own Pentagon spending bill, one of 12 annual spending bills, from even coming up for debate.
Preening for a budget showdown - the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 - they also rejected McCarthy’s continuing resolution to extend the budget for a month, declaring that they were “not interested in a continuing resolution that continues the policies and spendings of the Biden, Schumer, Pelosi era … We’re here to put our foot down.”
It’s hard to decide what’s worse, the drama or the hypocrisy. They are not mutually exclusive.
We’ll shut down the government if we don’t get what we want
The Freedom Caucus says it will “fight with everything that we have.” Calling their budget demands the “No Security, No Funding” plan, the caucus isn’t worried about a government shutdown. It’s all about MAGA messaging on a nation they fervently wish were in decline. According to Clay Higgins (R-La.), a government shutdown would be “small compared to the principle battle that we’re in. We are not going to casually fund the decline of our country.”
To address said “decline,” their plan prescribes dramatic spending cuts, including cuts in aid to Ukraine; constructing more southern border walls and restricting asylum seekers; an end to “woke” policies in the military like abortion leave; and eliminating the “unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI” through reduced DOJ funding. Caucus members are unbothered by the lack of evidence tying Biden to Trump’s many state and federal criminal indictments, or the fact that Trump tried to use the DOJ as his personal lawfirm, or his latest promise, if he is re-elected, “to … go after the Biden crime family.”
McCarthy, who made the mistake of bargaining with hijackers to get his speakership in the first place, parrots their interest in reducing the nation’s spending, which, he says, is like a family earning $24,000 a year, but spending $35,000. “The greatest threat to our nation’s future,” McCarthy now says, is “our national debt.”
Too bad McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus didn’t feel that way when Trump was in office.
Reckless spendthrift says what?
Despite full hibernation during the Trump years, their fiscal restraint was only triggered when a Democrat entered the White House. Although the federal deficit has grown through evenly divided Democrat and republican presidencies since 2001, former Republican congressman David Jolly observed that, “Roughly 25% of our total national debt incurred over the last 230 years actually occurred during the four years of the Trump administration.” As Trump so sagaciously observed, “This is the United States government … you never have to default because you print the money.”
McCarthy and the Freedom Caucus ignore that the national debt is driven by tax policy as much as spending. Following the Trump administration’s colossal $2.3 trillion tax giveaway to corporations and the nation’s wealthy, Trump reminded his rich donor friends, “You all just got a lot richer.” Did they ever? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that, over the next 11 years, Republicans’ tax cuts will continue to increase the national debt by another $1.9 trillion.
The national debt now sits at $33 trillion, and for all their bluster about cutting entitlements, Republicans can’t seem to stop gushing money for their donors.
Republicans reduced the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, gifting corporations with a 40% reduction in their tax burden in 2017, which will affect the budget for years to come. It’s a largess we still continue to pay for, but the No Security, No Funding plan makes no mention of clawing it back.
With time running out, Congress will have to pass a short-term extension on government funding, to buy more time for lawmakers to work out a spending package. Here’s hoping McCarthy takes a cue from the Senate, works out a bi-partisan budget no one really likes, and calls his tormentors’ bluff. If they vote to shut down the government anyway, at least everyone will know who to blame.
Sabrina Haake is a 25-year litigator specializing in 1st and 14th Amendment defense. Her columns appear in OutSFL, Chicago Tribune, Salon, State Affairs, and Howey Politics. She and her wife split their time between South Florida and Chicago. Follow her on substack.