Once upon a time, Joe Biden’s spending proposals would have sparked mass protests in the opposition.
Nothing else would have been talked about in the conservative media, and ambitious Republican politicians would have clashed to demonstrate the most intense resistance, up to and perhaps even chain themselves to the US Treasury building as a sign of protest.
In 2009, President Barack Obama created a spontaneous and hugely influential conservative grassroots movement based on an $ 800 billion stimulus bill and an estimated less than $ 1 trillion health care plan. dollars. In 2021, Biden is proposing to spend around $ 6 trillion on his first three big bills, and it can hardly generate more interest than the debate over wearing masks outside.
Conventional wisdom was that after the Trump years of free spending, Republicans would revert to deficit hawks when they were out of power. There has been a part of it, but the relatively low-key reaction to Biden’s almost incomprehensible spending ambitions is testament to the fact that, no, Republicans just aren’t as interested in budget matters anymore.
The party has changed and prefers to talk about the border rather than the budget and cancellations rather than Congressional Budget Office scores. Of course, no Republican will vote for Biden’s proposals and all will oppose vigorously, but the fact that his plans do not engender the fierce backlash they would have 10 years ago is another way the window of Overton moved on to deficit spending.
What happened? The short answer is Donald Trump.
He vividly demonstrated that as the GOP coalition grew older and more working-class, it did not care as much about spending restraint or rights reform as party leaders had assumed.
Trump has taught Republicans to relax and love expansionary fiscal policy. In 2019, it was running a deficit of nearly $ 1 trillion in a time of peace and prosperity, and of course the pandemic blew the lid off in 2020.
After that, it is difficult for the party to come back and sound the horns again on the dangers of red ink.
In addition, the horns have already given false alarms. Republicans have realized that the terrible warnings of the past about impending economic damage from the budget deficit – rising interest rates, rising inflation, the debt crisis – have not materialized.
In fact, this is one of the reasons the center-left now believes all of these admonitions should be ignored, and there is almost no upper limit on deficit spending.
Meanwhile, Republican politics have focused on issues of culture warfare, another shift symbolized by Trump. These problems cut to the bone in a way that tax matters do not. Conservatives fear their free speech rights will be violated, schools will twist their children’s minds, and the country’s history will be redefined – and it’s hard to get them to care more about the record than of these other more definitional questions.
None of this means Biden has a free hand. He’s likely to be less successful in getting everything he wants with his last two spending bills of around $ 2 trillion. Even in a permissive environment, natural political exhaustion with high spending levels will kick in, and it’s always more complicated when tax increases are proposed to pay at least part of the bill.
Republicans don’t go back to their debt obsession around 2010, but they should aspire to be, if not the party of green glasses, the party of fiscal reason.
The deficit spending hasn’t led to damaging results at this point, although that doesn’t mean it never will. If interest rates rise sharply again, the level of debt will strain the economy and force policymakers to make unpleasant choices about big tax hikes or spending cuts, or spending cuts. of them. The status of the US dollar as a global reserve currency could be threatened.
Why increase these risks if it is not strictly necessary?
This question will not get people onto the streets, but it is a question that President Biden and his supporters cannot convincingly answer.