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Editorial cartoon 8/8/18

It was less than 10 years ago that Republicans in Congress were fighting President Barack Obama over his plans to inject some $800 billion into the economy to ease the pain of the Great Recession that George W. Bush had left him.

You could hear the cries of "tax and spend liberals" coming from the likes of Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate leader, and like-minded "austerity" types in Congress.

Despite the GOP's opposition, Obama's stimulus was eventually passed and indeed did help produce jobs on "shovel-ready" projects around the nation. An exception we well remember was Wisconsin, where Obama's plan would have sent $810 million to build "high-speed" rail from Milwaukee to Madison and improve passenger rail on the Milwaukee to Chicago route. Scott Walker decided that wasn't a good idea, even if it meant more construction workers would be out of work. Just think how it might have helped Walker's pet Foxconn corporation shuttle workers to its new factory someday.

Obama, it now turns out, is but a piker when it comes to spending money. At a time when the economy is booming and we really don't need any stimulus, Donald Trump is making the proverbial drunken sailor look like a paradigm of financial responsibility. Remarkably, few congressional Republicans are complaining now.

But, the amount of spending right now is getting worrisome. It's as if even with a historically high national debt we are no longer concerned about the problems this may cause future generations — something that the Republicans would consistently rail about until their leader Donald Trump happened on the scene.

One has to admit that there was always something hypocritical about their lecturing the Democrats about spending, however. Whenever the economy was at a point where the budget deficit was closing, the GOP saw fit to enact healthy tax cuts that sent that deficit soaring again.

It happened under Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s, when he claimed his famous "supply side" economics of lower taxes on the wealthy would increase federal revenues. What happened, of course, is that he and the GOP wound up tripling the national debt. It more famously happened in the early 2000s when George W. Bush decided that Bill Clinton's policies that actually had been producing a surplus needed to be scrapped to enact yet another trickle-down tax cut, which quickly added trillions of more dollars to the debt.

Now, of course, unchastened supply-siders now led by Trump enacted tax cuts they claimed, once again, would grow federal revenues. Instead, they are sure to add yet another trillion dollars to the national debt in the next few years.

In fact, a recent report by the Office of Management and Budget predicted that the tax cut will push up the federal deficit even faster than had originally been predicted. From January to June of this year, according to Trump's own Treasury Department, corporate tax payments fell by a third from the same period a year ago. That represented a 75-year low as a share of the economy, the reports show, basically because of lowering corporate taxes from 35 to 21 percent.

And guess what? So far at least there's no indication that working people's wages are going up as had been predicted. The question remains: How many times do Republicans need to enact so-called supply-side budgets before they admit they don't work? Just ask one of their own zealots, former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who single-handedly ruined his state's economy.

But what's even more perplexing is that the administration continues to spend. Trump is threatening to close down the government if Congress doesn't fund his ridiculous and useless wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, which will cost more than $20 billion in taxpayer dollars and could go as high as $60 billion.

Then there's the $12 billion Trump plans to hand out to the farmers he's put in financial peril with his tariffs.

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Wait! Trump's treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, he of Wall Street shenanigans fame, is floating an idea to grant yet another $100 billion tax cut to wealthy Americans who have to pay capital gains taxes. Seems the $1.5 trillion tax cut wasn't enough for the high rollers. Mnuchin believes Trump can do that on his own, no need to pass it through Congress.

As most Americans know, the piper will have to be paid for all this reckless spending and they know who will suffer most. It won't be the big boys who got the tax breaks or the recipients of corporate handouts, but the folks on food stamps or the elderly who rely on Medicare and Social Security.

Suddenly, a light will go on that we can't sustain this spending. When it does, we better hope that a different crew is in charge.

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

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.