The GOP’s Comically Deceitful Budget is a Sign of Desperation–and Progress

A large number of commentators have pointed out how unusually mendacious the House GOP budget is, containing unexplained unicorns amounting to trillions of dollars in mysterious revenues and budget cuts. Here’s Debbie Stabenow to explain:

“We have a point of order in the budget for anything that adds to the deficit, but we have a section that specifically excludes the Affordable Care Act from that,” Stabenow said. “So think about it. This budget is conceding the fact that the Affordable Care Act has reduced the deficit, and repealing the law would increase the deficit.”

Stabenow also alluded a related problem the GOP budget ignores: At the same time that it instructs Congress to come up with a repeal, it continues to count all the revenue that the Affordable Care Act is expected to raise — and which the government wouldn’t collect if the law is dismantled.

“You can’t rig the rules on both sides,” Stabenow said. “That’s not fair. I would argue that’s really budget gimmickry. I think it’s important if you are going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, you have to step up and assume the consequences of that.”

Paul Krugman was especially on point:

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum…

Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

It’s easy to throw one’s hands up in despair at this stuff. The Republican caucus has grown so cynically deceitful that one wonders if it’s possible to accomplish anything useful in Washington anymore. It’s also easily to be depressed at the notion that a political party this obviously inept and morally debased somehow manages to retain control the House and Senate.

But there’s a silver lining here: the unprecedented gall is the result of desperation on the part of conservatives. They know they’ve lost the battle for the soul of America.

Conservatives know that repealing Obamacare will be very unpopular. Conservatives know that Americans don’t buy into Objectivism, and don’t support more wealth transfers from the poor and middle class to the very rich. Conservatives know that Americans have woken up to the reality that supply-side economics is junk science and doesn’t help anyone but the top 1% of the economy. Conservatives know that actual reality–say, that Obamacare actually saves money for both the budget and the American people–is squarely against them.

So they have to be dishonest. They have to create budgets with gigantic trillion dollar holes in them and wild unspoken assumptions. They can’t be honest about any of their policy methods or even their policy goals.

It’s very hard, over time, to do business that way as a political party. You can throw up a lot of smokescreens and take advantage of anti-incumbent anger over this or that kerfuffle, but ultimately even with gobs of Koch and Adelson money you can’t keep playing uphill forever when people flat out disagree with you and every fact runs counter to your ideology.

Especially not when demographics are against you as well. The GOP’s naked aggression against decency and reality can often seem like the moves of an unaccountable winner. But in reality they’re the lashing out of a desperate party losing ground.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.