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What ever happened to the deficit hawks?

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

When Barack Obama was president, congressional Republicans were deficit hawks. They opposed almost everything Obama wanted to do by arguing that it would increase the federal budget deficit.

But now that Republicans are planning giant tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, they've stopped worrying about fiscal responsibility.

Senate Republicans have agreed on a budget that would cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, which could mean the biggest budget deficits in history.

Unless Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare and defense, that is. Even if Republicans eliminated everything else in the federal budget -- from education to Meals on Wheels -- they wouldn't have nearly enough to pay for tax cuts of the magnitude Republicans are now touting.

But Republicans won't cut Social Security or Medicare because the programs are overwhelmingly popular. And rather than cut defense, Senate Republicans want to increase defense spending by a whopping $80 billion (enough to fund the free public higher education that Bernie Sanders proposed in last year's Democratic primary -- which deficit hawks in both parties mocked as being ridiculously expensive).

There's also the cleanup from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, estimated to be least $190 billion. And Trump's "wall," which the Department of Homeland Security estimates will cost about $22 billion.

Oh, and don't forget infrastructure. It's just about the only major spending bill that could be passed by bipartisan majorities in both houses. Given the state of the nation's highways, byways, public transit, water treatment facilities and sewers, it's desperately needed. Trump campaigned on spending $1 trillion on it.

So how do Republicans propose to pay for any of this -- and provide a big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy -- without exploding the federal deficit?

Easy. Just pretend the tax cuts will cause the economy to grow so fast -- 3 percent a year on average -- that they'll pay for themselves, and the benefits will trickle down to everyone else.

If you believe this, I have several past Republican budgets to sell you, extending all the way back to Ronald Reagan's magic asterisks.

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