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Deficit cartoon

Suddenly, the emails from my conservative friends who argue that the huge national debt we have is all the fault of tax-and-spend liberals have slowed to a trickle.

Suffering from short political memories, they routinely have blamed everyone from LBJ to Barack Obama for plunging the nation so deeply in debt that our grandkids and their kids will never recover.

They forget that their big economic hero, Ronald Reagan, doubled the debt during his eight years in office (remember tax cuts and increased military spending?) as did fellow Republican George W. Bush during his eight years even after inheriting a balanced budget from his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton. Democrat Obama is held out for particular scorn for yet again doubling the debt, blithely dismissing the reality that he inherited the worst budget crisis since Franklin D. Roosevelt saved the nation from the Great Depression.

All of this Republican angst should have been alleviated after the 2016 elections that saw the party commandeer complete power in Washington — both houses of Congress and the presidency. Finally, they told me, big government would come to its senses and these wild-spending Democrats would be throttled.

Hate to point this out, but the GOP in complete control in Washington is making the Democrats look like pikers when it comes to spending money. Not only do the corporate tax cuts dig a deeper budget hole, but the spending agreement reached in early February is expected to add another $300 billion to the debt annually. What's amazing is that they aren't nearly done yet.

The budget message the administration sent to Congress a few weeks ago is drowning in red ink, and let's not forget the help that Donald Trump wants to give the states for infrastructure projects. We're indeed watching the proverbial drunken sailor spending at his best.

It wasn't all that long ago that congressional Republicans proudly insisted on balanced federal budgets. That insistence alone led them to consistently oppose social welfare programs. Most conservatives even opposed Obama's stimulus plan to spur the economy during the terrible days of the Great Recession, when job creation was a critical need for the middle class and the economy badly needed a boost.

Suddenly, many of these same members of Congress have become fans of deficit spending when, ironically, the economy is doing quite well and doesn't need a boost. In fact, this could well have been the time that the country could have balanced the budget once again.

House speaker and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is the poster child of this turnaround. Only two years ago he'd rail on the House floor, pointing to Democrats for being the party that wants to spend and spend, and then insist it was his side, the grown-up Republicans, that realized the need for less spending and balanced budgets.

Suddenly he's become the biggest defender of deficit spending in Washington.

Some budget watchers calculate that the current spending is likely to add a trillion dollars a year to the already-huge $20 trillion national debt. 

Watch out, though. The Paul Ryans of the world will suddenly discover this is unsustainable. Hold on to your Social Security and Medicare because that's exactly where they'll go.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. 

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