Surprise! (Not really.) The conservative movement doesn't oppose deficit spending, they oppose deficit spending by Democrats.
Think Progress's Matt Yglesias has a succinct summary. Some key points:
- There have been two presidents who were members of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, and they both presided over massive increases in both present and projected deficits.
- The major deficit reduction packages of the modern era, in 1990 and 1993, were both uniformly opposed by the conservative movement.
- When the deficit was temporarily eliminated in the late-1990s, the mainstream conservative view was that this showed that the deficit was too low and needed to be increased via large tax cuts.
- Senator Mitch McConnell says it’s a uniform view in his caucus that tax cuts needn’t be offset by other changes in spending.
- The deficit reduction commission is having trouble because they think conservative politicians won’t vote for any form of tax increase.
Yglesias concludes "there are zero historical examples of conservatives mobilizing to make the deficit smaller. What is true is that most conservatives oppose increases in non-military spending when those increases are proposed by Democratic presidents.... This isn’t a goal they pursue that stands in some kind of balance with concern about the deficit, it’s the only goal they pursue."
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein adds "deficit reduction holds an honored place in the opposition party's playbook, as it constrains the majority party's ability to do anything proactive."
He also notes that in the 2000s Republicans modified the budget reconciliation process — the set of procedural rules that can be used to limit debate on budget-related matters in the House or Senate — so that it could be used to increase the deficit. This maneuver was then used to allow tax increases that massively increased the deficit. When Democrats took power they added a rule so that reconciliation could only be used to reduce the deficit. The latter is what required health-care reform to be linked to taxes and Medicare cuts.
There's also a lot of evidence that conservatives care much more about lowering tax cuts than they do about the deficit. Mitch McConnell's supply-side nonsense aside, those two goals are in direct contradiction, at least if you're not willing to offset your tax cuts with spending cuts or tax increases. And the Republican Party, as Jon Kyl said this week and Reagan and Bush both proved, is not.
Hat tip to PoliticalWire for connecting these two articls.