The total deficit in 2018 ran $779 billion, which is a growth of $113 billion. Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) called this deficit “disturbing” and set forth the Republican deficit control plan: cuts to healthcare and Social Security. America hasn’t seen a surplus in nearly twenty years.
“It’s very disturbing, and it’s driven by the three big entitlement programs that are very popular: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid,” said McConnell. “There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully at some point here we’ll get serious about this. We haven’t been yet.”
But Senate Democrats released a report that showed that if not for Republican plans, there would be no deficit at all. There would, in fact, be a surplus to the tune of $156 billion.
“Without Republicans’ tax cuts, war-fighting, and defense buildup since 2001, the federal budget would have been $156 billion in surplus,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
The report, prepared by the Democratic staff of the Senate Budget Committee, highlighted four areas of Republican policy that created the current skyrocketing deficit.
Those four areas were $488 billion in Bush-era tax cuts for the rich, $164 billion in Trump-era tax cuts for the rich, $127 billion in direct costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and $156 billion in base defense increases.
“The story of how the federal government turned projected surpluses into deficits is one of two decades’ worth of Republican policies that amounted to a massive transfer of wealth from working families and middle-class Americans to the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations in the country,” said the report. “In short, the last 20 years of federal policymaking have been a disaster for our economy, for our health, and for our standard of living.”
And with that surplus, not only would Social Security and Medicare not be the scapegoats for bloated Republican policies but Congress could pursue new investments in average Americans, like nearly eliminating poverty altogether ($174 billion) or just eliminating homelessness and child poverty ($91.5 billion).
Proponents of tax cuts would argue that giving the wealthy more wealth has a trickle-down effect, where tax cuts for the wealthy allow the creation of new jobs. This has not, historically, been true. Even one of the architects of that school of thought now calls it a “myth.”. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also projects no meaningful growth from Trump’s tax cuts.
As the deficit approaches the trillion dollar mark and economists grapple with what that means, the knowledge of how America got here and what policies created the problem seems a particularly important detail. Especially with an election looming large over Washington.
The discussion then becomes one of where America needs to trim back it’s excesses, be it in essential services or in subsidizing enormous wealth.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.