“In 2011, House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, issued a report full of dire warnings about the dangers of budget deficits. “The United States is facing a crushing burden of debt,” it declared, warning of a looming fiscal crisis that might soon “capsize” the economy. Citing the horrors of big deficits, Republicans refused to raise the federal debt ceiling, threatening to create financial turmoil and effectively blackmailing President Barack Obama into cutting spending on domestic programs.
How big were these horrifying deficits? In the 2012 fiscal year the federal deficit was $1.09 trillion. Much of this deficit, however, was a direct result of a depressed economy, which held down revenues and increased outlays on unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs. The deficit fell rapidly over the next few years as the economy recovered.
This week Republicans, having just enacted a huge tax cut, cheerfully agreed to a budget deal that, according to independent experts, will push next year’s deficit up to around $1.15 trillion — bigger than in 2012. True, this won’t quite match 2012’s red ink as a percentage of G.D.P.; but this time none of the deficit will be a result of a depressed economy.
Wait, it gets worse. In 2012 there were strong economic reasons to run budget deficits. The economy was still suffering the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis. Unemployment was around 8 percent. And the Federal Reserve, which normally takes the lead in fighting slumps, had very limited ammunition: It had already cut interest rates to zero, and its policy of “quantitative easing” — purchasing longer-term debt — was of questionable effectiveness. (And Ryan, among others, fiercely attacked the Fed’s efforts, which he claimed — wrongly — would “debase the currency.”)
The state of the economy in 2012 was exactly the kind of situation in which running budget deficits is actually a good thing, because they help sustain overall spending. By contrast, there is no comparable case for deficits now, with the economy near full employment and the Fed raising interest rates to head off potential inflation. (Maybe the Fed is moving too soon, but the contrast with 2012 is still extreme.)”
DL: Bravo Paul Krugman. You wrote about this stuff when Obama was president, and now you get to write about it again. You were correct both times in identifying the hypocracy and economic and social damage that the GOP is wreaking on the United States. Thank you.