Exercises in Hypocrisy: Starve the Beast


Surely in the annals of economic and political hypocrisy, “Starve the Beast” ranks as a grand champion. The Best in Class. Or Worst in Class.

The idea originated, like most simplistic, bad Republican ideas, with President Ronald Reagan. The idea – for a given definition of “idea” – was that if you cut taxes the federal government would shrink; that less revenue would necessitate reduced services. In the words of Federal Reserve Bank Chair Alan Greenspan to the U.S. House Finance Committee:

Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.

It was very strange behavior for folks who called themselves “conservatives.”

It was President George W. Bush, though, who took the idea to its extreme. President Bush launched two land wars in Asia, a major new Medicare prescription benefit and a major tax cut, combining the highest levels of government spending in history with a huge tax cut. President Bush starved the beast by growing government and cutting revenue. And he called himself a “conservative,” too.

The Medicare prescription benefit passed the U.S. House by one vote. Suppose President Bush had included a tax increase to fund the Medicare expansion. Do you think it would have passed? If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had required a tax increase, do you think Congress would have approved them?

Do you think the jingoists clamoring for a new war in Iraq against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are lining up to support a tax to fund their new war?

What’s that? The federal bailout of the economic collapse was a big part of the deficit? Assuming that’s true, whose economic policies caused that economic collapse? Who rolled back the government regulation that might have limited the extent of the collapse? A Republican administration which, for half of the period, enjoyed a Republican-led Congress.

And for the last five years, the Republicans have assailed American voters with constant warnings of the size of the federal deficit, which is overwhelmingly the result of Republican policy, and in particular President George W. Bush. So the deficit, the cause of government shutdowns, is largely attributable to a successful Republican tactic – wait for it, now – to create a giant government deficit.

WC has long since abandoned the old Hypocrite of the Month Award; there were too many candidates. But if WC were still in the business of giving such an award, the Republican’s Starve the Beast Plan would retire the trophy.

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