Deficits plunge but tea party Republicans don’t notice or don’t care

If the federal budget deficit was a stock, we’d say it crashed.

How else to describe a drop of more than a third in a short period of time?

As one report notes:

The U.S. government posted a narrower budget deficit in August compared with a year ago, keeping the annual gap on track to be the smallest in five years.

The deficit for August was $147.9 billion, the Treasury reported Friday. That brought the annual budget gap through the first 11 months to $755 billion, or 35 percent lower than the nearly $1.2 trillion in red ink for the same period last year.

The budget year ends on Sept. 30. The Congressional Budget Office projects the government will run a surplus this month, lowering the annual deficit to $642 billion. That would be the first annual deficit below $1 trillion in five years. [source]

Spending is down and revenue — from taxes and an improving economy — is up. The result: a much smaller deficit.

Yet tea party Republicans in Congress are still calling for massive cuts, claiming that the federal government’s budget is out of control.

It isn’t.

Moreover, it is proving exceedingly difficult to get agreement between House Republicans on a plan to pass a budget, which has to be done to prevent a federal government shutdown on October 1. Some are even balking on agreeing to pay accrued bills via raising the debt limit.

So the question is — do they not know the deficit has plunged or do they simply not care?

Sometimes it appears that legislators are unaware. You hear Republican legislators claiming that spending is out of control or, more mildly, that we have a “spending problem.” They argue bigger cuts are needed (although not in defense) because the budget is a big, big problem.

In other words, they ignore the reality that the deficit has plunged and is simply not a real problem.

However, others maintain some degree of awareness of the deficit, even acknowledging that delaying or overturning Obamacare would increase the deficit.

Take this southern legislator, for example:

“Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “It is the most existential threat to our economy” that the country has seen “since the Great Depression, so I think a little bit of additional deficit is nothing,” he added. [source]

Rep. Fleming doesn’t care that much about the deficit after all. Instead, he will do anything to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The thing is, it’s quite clear that, even if defunding the ACA could pass both houses of Congress (it can’t), it would never be signed by President Obama. He won’t dismantle his historical achievement.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and other prominent Republicans recognize this. They also recognize that it will be exceedingly difficult for the House to pass something that could be signed into law, unless they do so with many Democratic votes.

But there aren’t enough Democratic votes in the House for a plan with big cuts and a rollback of Obamacare. Such a plan goes against their policy views and constituents’ preferences, and cutting the ACA would increase the deficit.

Hopefully legislators will recognizing reality before the next federal budget needs to pass. If not, a federal government shutdown will undermine our economic recovery. And, of course, that would again increase the federal deficit.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.