OH, NOW THEY’RE DEFICIT HAWKS…. Dick Cheney declared during Bush’s first term, “Deficits don’t matter.” Congressional Republicans agreed, spent freely, and gladly put two wars on the national charge card. The results were trillions of dollars in additional debt and enormous annual budget deficits.

Now that the White House is poised to welcome a Democratic president, and an economic crisis demands massive new federal spending, congressional Republicans have decided they suddenly care about deficits again. How convenient.

Out of power, Republicans appear to be retreating to familiar old ground. They’re becoming deficit hawks again.

GOP lawmakers didn’t seem to mind enjoying the fruits of government largesse for the past eight years while one of their own was in the White House. Now they’re struggling to regain footing at a time of economic rout, a record $1.2 trillion budget deficit and an incoming Democratic president claiming a mandate for change.

It might not be the best time for running against more government spending. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from casting themselves as protectors of the public purse, striving for relevancy as Congress tackles President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation.

“Congress cannot keep writing checks and simply pass IOUs to our children and grandchildren,” says Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Asks House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: “How much debt are we going to pile on future generations?”

I don’t know, how much economic collapse are we prepared to hand to future generations?

“It’s hard to oppose fixing the economy right now,” said Stanley Collender, a former congressional budget analyst now with Qorvis Communications, a Washington consulting firm. Collender said the depth of the crisis makes it difficult for fiscal conservatives in either party “to say that deficits are something that should be addressed right now.”

“If you say that, you kind of lose credibility,” Collender said.

True, but when you have no credibility, I suppose you have nothing to lose.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.