House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in just one number: $343 billion.
That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.
If the economy had fallen into recession between 2015 and 2018, Ryan’s record would be understandable. But it didn’t. In fact, growth quickened and the labor market tightened — which means deficits should’ve fallen. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in each of the five years preceding Ryan’s speakership; from 2011 to 2015, annual deficits fell each year.
As he prepares to leave office, Ryan says that debt reduction is one of those things “I wish we could have gotten done.” Ryan, the man with the single most power over the federal budget in recent years, sounds like a bystander, as if he watched laws happen rather than made them happen.
Anybody still giving the benefit of the doubt to Republicans needs to go outside and break off a switch. Republicans keep playing this “fiscal responsibility” card, and too many of us keep falling for it to debate its merits as if their positions ever hold fast once they get elected. “Fiscal responsibility” is a catchphrase to bring two groups to the polls: rich people and poor whites.
Rich people hear “fiscal responsibility” and they know their taxes will be cut. The GOP uses “fiscal responsibility” as part of their funny math to justify cutting taxes for corporations and rich people. The rich don’t actually care that the math doesn’t add up — they just know the politicians they elected are using that ruse to get over on the rest of the country, that their politicians are saying “we have to curb spending, and once we have less stuff to pay for, we don’t need as much tax revenue coming in” and then voila — the rich get richer.
Poor whites hear “fiscal responsibility” and they feel like the coloreds and the immigrants will be getting fewer handouts. Never mind the fact that it’s Republican states that take the most from the federal government and contribute the least, because facts don’t matter. Only perception matters, and the perception among poor whites is that they are struggling while Blacks & Muslims & Mexicans are living high on the hog thanks to welfare programs that taxes pay for. Why should they get free stuff from the government while Good Americans (white ones) are scrimping and saving to pay the bills? Those poor whites vote for politicians pimping austerity measures against their own self-interests because they’d rather suffer themselves if they can sleep soundly at night with the knowledge that brown people are hopefully suffering even more.
Then those politicians take office and have no interest in balancing a budget or keeping spending under control because, just like Donald Trump said last week, they won’t be in office when the bottom falls out. Democratic leadership will have to come in, fix everything, and then the cycle repeats itself.