Back then, in this case, means 2010 through 2014, give or take. Congress passed a trillion-dollar stimulus to help wrest the country back from free fall, and the economy entered a sluggish recovery from the pain of the recession. Shortly after, Republicans started whipping up concern over the country’s fiscal situation, even as many economists from across the political spectrum argued that workers needed more help from deficit-financed stimulus. Democrats, in many cases, agreed with their colleagues across the aisle, expressing deep concern over the long-term fiscal situation. Next came a commission, endless budget negotiations, a tax increase, struggles with the debt ceiling, sequestration, a government shutdown.
More than anything else, there was obsession. Obsession with the idea that the bond market would punish the United States like it punished Greece, making the country’s debt burden unsustainable, and soon. Obsession with the idea of frivolous budgetary irresponsibility. “In this generation, a defining responsibility of government is to steer our nation clear of a debt crisis while there is still time,” Paul Ryan, now the speaker of the House, warned, adding that “President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined.”
Sure, Republicans still cast themselves as the party of budgetary responsibility today. “We must impose firm caps on future debt, accelerate the repayment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are placing on future generations,” the party’s 2016 platform reads. And while President Trump has never been much of a budget hawk, he did campaign on a promise to not just reduce the annual deficit, but to balance the budget outright and “relatively quickly.”
But how things have changed. President Trump and congressional Republicans pushed through a package of tax cuts financed almost entirely through deficit spending—tax cuts that benefit corporations and the rich at the expense of the middle class and the working poor, no less. Absent any other budgetary changes, the legislation will add an estimated $1.8 trillion to the country’s debt over the next 10 years. It is likely that the country’s annual budget deficit will top $1 trillion next year, even if the unemployment rate remains low and the economy keeps growing.
With the tax cuts now law, Republicans are seeking to increase deficits even further. Gone are the promises to tackle entitlement reform, or to seek huge cuts from programs across the government. Instead, Republicans are pushing to shunt more money to military operations. “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values,” President Trump said, to rapturous applause, during Tuesday’s address. “For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.” (Democrats are negotiating over the increase, and are pushing for more money for the opioid epidemic and disaster relief.)