Austerians for the Tax Cut State

This post from Corey Robin is pure awesome. The premise is that Democrats used to be the party of popular social program spending, while the Republicans were the party who wrung their hands about what it all would do to the deficit. This made the Democrats naturally more popular while Republicans were left in the role as the “tax collectors for the welfare state” as Newt Gingrich complained.

The “starve the beast” strategy basically flipped this around. Whenever Republicans get power, they pass a bunch of high end tax cuts and create larger deficits. While still in power they say deficits don’t matter, but as soon as they lose power, they try to create a big political issue out of the deficit. Of course there’s never an actual plan to reduce deficits from the Republicans – just a lot of window dressing like cuts to tiny line items like foreign aid, Planned Parenthood and NPR.

The point of all this is to make the Democrats respond by trying to compete on the deficit issue, and actually doing the real work of deficit reduction. But look how this played out in the early 2000’s. As soon as Bill Clinton balanced the budget, the Republicans immediately blew up the budget with new tax cuts. Democrats would have to be fools to think that won’t happen the next time the budget’s balanced.

So I just think there’s no point for Democrats to even engage on the deficit issue. If Republicans want to be the deficit party, that’s great. Let them propose all the unpopular cuts and tax increases. Democrats should go back to thinking big on popular public goods and services, and let the Republicans figure out how to pay for it.


  1. Serious historians know Clinton only balanced the budget because he got his ass handed to him and had no choice.

    History also shows that single-party rule results in epic fiscal disasters.

  2. Clinton prioritized deficit reduction because of the bond vigilantes and because Alan Greenspan promised to deliver a monetary policy consistent with full employment if he addressed the deficit issue. That was the appropriate time to start doing something about the deficit. Unlike now, the deficit really was causing problems in the real economy by crowding out private investment. The time for us to start talking about the deficit, and stop talking about full employment, is when the bond vigilantes once again pay us a visit, and no sooner.

  3. Also the 1993 budget, which the Republican Party opposed, was responsible for this. It had nothing to do with the Republicans winning big in the 1994 elections. Gingrich’s Republicans spent the rest of the decade trying to blow up the budget with new tax cuts.

  4. As long as you include crippling defense cuts in your analysis, and the fact that in large part because of Hillarycare and the Omnibus Budget Act Clinton got his ass handed to him in 1994 and dove to the middle as a result.

    When are you going to talk about Bill Clinton’s racist comments on Obama? If it were a Republican who said that, you’d be foaming at the mouth.


  1. […] for (still unspecified) cuts.This is the first opportunity I see for Democrats to quit being austerians for the tax cut state and pull American politics back to the more sensible dynamic we used to have where the party that […]

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