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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Spotlighting the GOP’s Undeserved Cred for Fiscal Responsibility

One of the memes Republicans hype up and down-ballot races is that the GOP is the party of ‘fiscal responsibility,’ balanced budgets and such, contrary to their track record. It’s an image of considerable importance to the Republicans, especially with conservatives who put a premium on prudent tax and spend ratios. As Matt Miller notes at The Washington Post,

“it’s impossible to overstate how central the unjustified label of “fiscal conservative” is to the Ryan brand and the GOP’s strategy. As Clinton understood in the 1990s, “fiscal responsibility” is a values issue important to the voters who decide modern presidential elections…The point: Democrats can’t afford to let Ryan/Romney’s phony image as superior fiscal stewards survive.”

Miller discusses a recent interview Britt Hume did with Paul Ryan, who squirmed uncomfortably when Hume tried to pin him down about the time-table for the first balanced budget under the Romney-Ryan ‘plan.’

…For context, recall that in the last era of epic budget smackdowns, 1995 and 1996, Newt Gingrich would have had an equally simple answer: in seven years. President Bill Clinton’s failure to embrace the goal of a balanced budget at all was a major political liability that Clinton finally (and shrewdly) erased when he came out with his own 10-year plan in mid-1995. (It’s worth underscoring that a 10-year path to balance was viewed then as the outer limit of credibility — pledging to end the red ink any further than a decade out didn’t pass the laugh test.)

Ryan equivocates in an effort to dodge Hume’s question. He “stumbles momentarily before trying to move the conversation to his comfortable talking points about Romney’s goal of reducing spending to historic norms as a share of gross domestic product.” But Hume won’t let go, and,

…Ryan then adds that “the plan that we’ve offered in the House balances the budget.” But he immediately stops short of saying when — you see his eyes dart to the right at that moment, his next tell — because that would mean admitting it reaches balance in the 2030s. And Ryan wants to get through this interview without saying that, because he knows it doesn’t sound good. After all, what kind of “fiscal conservative” has a 25-year plan to balance the budget?

Bearing in mind that presidents alone don’t balance budgets, President Eisenhower was the last Republican to preside over a balanced budget, in both 1956 and 1957. Two recent Democratic Presidents presided over balanced budgets, LBJ in 1969 and Clinton in 1998 through 2001. During the last 4 decades there have been five budget surpluses under Democratic Presidents: 1969, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001, compared to zilch for Republicans.
Miller goes on the cite “the big Republican lie — the idea that you can balance the budget as the baby boomers age without taxes rising” and he warns, “if Democrats spend all their energy on Medicare — and don’t knock out the GOP ticket’s undeserved reputation for fiscal responsibility — they’ll find themselves in unexpected peril as the race heads to the fall. ”

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