Michael Kinsley challenges Republican hypocrisy on balanced budgets, noting that one of the biggies in the 1994 Contract with America was the promise of a balanced budget amendment. He’s right to point out that the Republicans have given up a rather fundamental tenant of their core platform, but rather disengenous when he throws in this kind of nonsense:

Republicans aren’t the only source of such fun. There is a limited amount of hilarity to be had from watching formerly or even currently wastrel Democrats as they try on the preachers’ robes of frugality. But Bill Clinton pretty much ruined that joke by actually balancing the budget (OK, OK, with some help from those congressional Republicans, along with considerable hindrance and near-universal predictions of disaster).

While appearing to be fair minded–see I’m saying the Democrats are hypocrites, too!–he sneaks in the lie that Clinton balanced the budget. The passive voice is definitely in order here: Yes, the budget was balanced while Clinton was in office. No, he didn’t do it. Nor, by the way, did Republican fiscal restraint. No, the Internet bubble did that for us. Its bursting is why we now have deficits again.

Further, the lesson of that bubble is that the best thing the government can do for the economy is to get out of the way. Even a couple trillion dollars (the entire federal budget) is a small chunk of change when you have a GDP over ten trillion. Bush’s tax cuts haven’t caused the current deficit, nor will the next round of cuts turn it around. Once the economy gets humming again, we’ll grow our way out of debt, assuming we don’t increase spending faster than we can bring in revenues.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Eric Dunn says:

    I heard some spin the other day about running a deficit. They described the deficit in a way I’d never thought of before.

    It makes economic sense to have a deficit, because you then pay tomorrow for todays excesses with money that’s valued less.

    If you consider we crossed the trillion dollar mark for a national debt, what, ten years ago? When a trillion dollars was approx. 25% of our GDP?

    You never hear about the national debt today, because of the very reason you stated – we’re over 10 Trillion in GDP. Our growth far exceeded the interest we were paying on the national debt.

  2. Eric Dunn says:

    Oh yeah, and you have to disregard at least half of what Michael Kinsley says. He’s so far out in left field, he has to hold his glasses to the right of his head.

  3. Scott Harris says:

    Contrary to popular liberal opinion, Republicans do not walk lock-step together on all issues. I have been a Republican since 1983, and I was always against the Balanced Budget Amendment. I do not like drawing artificial lines in the sand, and actual numbers are always fungible. So, the BBA was always more of a values statement than a good policy or law.

    The folly of the BBA rhetoric is now coming back to haunt Republicans as maybe it should, but I believe wisdom demands keeping options open, including borrowing money. Only the arrogant presume that they can foresee all future contingencies when the government might need to borrow money. Putting ourselves in the “lock-box” of BBA was always a stupid idea.

    That doesn’t mean the goal of balancing the budget and paying off the debt is a bad goal. But just look at all the states slashing their staff and services to meet the artificial requirements of state BBA’s, and you see the havoc caused by giving “goals” the force of unbending law.

    BTW, even as a Republican, I have always been against GWB’s tax cuts. I thought they were not well-conceived or needed. Times of surplus could be used to pay down the debt. Also, times of surplus inevitably come to an end.

    I like GWB and have always supported him, including when he was the Texas Rangers GM in my hometown of Arlington, Texas, but the only rationale that I could find for reducing taxes was to take the money off the table so it couldn’t be spent. I always preferred being responsible and paying off the debt first. But given the Congress’ unwillingness to be fiscally responsible (both parties), maybe GWB was right. That still doesn’t make it preferable to me.