Since Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives, an odd thing has happened: they have begun talking nonstop about government spending and the national debt.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy referred to debt as “one of the biggest challenges… to our country” earlier this week on Fox News’ Hannity program. According to CNN, a compromise reached between McCarthy and the anti-McCarthy rebels who postponed his installation as speaker placed a strong emphasis on decreasing government expenditure and the deficit.
Debt, deficit, and the fiscal house are, in the words of North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, “the largest problem in this Congress” and “a huge priority for House Republicans.” Republicans in the House are publicly indicating that they would want reforms to the nation’s social insurance systems.
Republicans believe they can use the threat of a disastrous default on the nation’s debt obligations to exert pressure on a president who supports their party.
Republicans’ actions here go beyond just bluster. In a presentation to the House GOP conference on the party’s fiscal priorities, GOP leaders outlined a number of proposals, including “reforms” to “mandatory spending programs” for the nation’s seniors, which almost certainly include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These proposals included a fiscal 2024 budget resolution balancing the budget within 10 years, a cap on 2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels or lower, and most ominously, a 2024 discretionary spending cap at levels or Republicans in the House have also vowed not to increase the debt ceiling “without budget agreement or comparable budgetary measures.”
Though they tend to be more loud when they are not in power and even quieter when their policies are increasing the national debt, as was the case with the deficit-exploding Trump tax cuts approved in 2017, it is undoubtedly true that Republicans have historically shouted against fiscal deficits (and the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2002). Indeed, during Trump’s four years in office, the national debt increased by around $8 trillion. Republicans start to get re-concerned about the deficit and the debt when a Democrat is in the White House, as Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle noted earlier this week. The Treasury Department stated on Thursday that the budget deficit has decreased from $2.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion in only the previous year, but oddly, Republicans didn’t seem especially happy with the news.
What is so strange about the hand-wringing about the debt at the moment is this: Republicans in the House haven’t really discussed it much lately.
When Republicans presented their policy platform in September of last year, it didn’t include debt reduction at all, and it wasn’t depicted as a primary legislative objective. Although there was a demand to “curb excessive government spending that is driving up the cost of food, gas, vehicles, and housing and driving up our national debt,” this was the same trite rhetoric that has been used in Republican talking points for years.
Instead, the GOP prioritized “fighting inflation,” “achieving energy independence” for the United States, and “strengthening the supply chain and ending dependency on China.” There were no suggestions to reduce social insurance programs, acknowledgment of the deficit, or discussion of budget balance. Republicans were far more likely to bring up immigration, crime, the evils of “wokeness” and/or socialism during specific House campaigns.
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