Fiscal Conservatives Embrace Aid Plan 03/28 08:46
Republicans who have spent the past decade howling about the danger of
ballooning deficits embraced the coronavirus rescue package approved by
Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, shrugging off past concerns
about spending in the face of a public health crisis.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Republicans who have spent the past decade howling about
the danger of ballooning deficits embraced the coronavirus rescue package
approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, shrugging off past
concerns about spending in the face of a public health crisis.
In many cases, the conservatives who backed the $2 trillion bill --- the
largest economic relief measure in U.S. history --- were the very same who
raged against the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package backed by the
But facing the unprecedented threat of a global pandemic --- and working
under a Republican president who has largely brushed off concerns about debt
and deficits --- the GOP was willing to overlook an unprecedented flood of
taxpayer spending. Leading budget hawk Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who insisted in
2009 that government cannot spend its way out of a recession, this week joined
a unanimous Senate majority that approved what he described as "the biggest
government intervention in the economy in the history of the world."
"This is a response to an invasion," he told reporters. "This is the kind of
thing you'd have to do if we were at war."
Like other conservatives, he noted that much of the nation's current
economic distress was caused by the government's social distancing orders,
while the Obama stimulus was in response to a crisis created by the private
Failing to take dramatic action now, Toomey said, "would be a wildly
imprudent thing, and it would probably result in such a severe recession --- it
might very well be a depression --- and it could take decades to come out of
Even before the health crisis struck, the Republican-aligned fiscal
conservative movement had dramatically diminished under Trump, who has pushed
the nation's budget deficit to heights not seen in nearly a decade. That's
prompted arguments that the GOP is hypocritical when it comes to government
Mick Mulvaney, Trump's outgoing chief of staff and a former Republican
congressman aligned with the tea party, told a private audience last month that
the GOP only worries about deficits "when there is a Democrat in the White
House," according to a report in The Washington Post.
For the first time in the modern era, Republicans are on record supporting
direct cash payments to tens of millions of Americans --- a government-backed
measure more likely to be found in socialist countries. The legislation offers
Americans grants of up to $1,200 each with an additional $500 for each child.
Also in the bill: a massive expansion of unemployment benefits, $500 billion in
loans to businesses and local governments, and tens of billions more for the
airline industry, hospitals and food assistance.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, Washington's preeminent
fiscal conservative watchdog that Toomey previously led, raised the possibility
that the coronavirus package could push this year's budget deficit to $4
trillion. The largest annual deficit in U.S. history was $1.4 trillion in 2009.
"The spending is just outrageously high," McIntosh said in an interview.
"But on the short-term basis, we're pleased."
He opposed the direct payments to Americans but was satisfied that a
significant portion of the taxpayer-funded package consists of loans likely to
be repaid. He added that Congress rejected what he called the Democrats' list
of unrelated "political goodies."
"Yes, it's too much, and we're worried about overall spending, but we
recognize something has to be done," McIntosh said. "That's the kind of comment
I'm hearing from conservatives who would normally oppose big spending bills."
What remains of the tea party movement, which sprang up early in Barack
Obama's presidency to oppose government spending, has largely been silent. One
major exception: Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who upset congressional leaders ---
and Trump himself --- on Friday by unsuccessfully trying to force a formal
House vote on the historic legislation.
Massie tweeted that the $2 trillion rescue package, in addition to an
additional $4 trillion in stimulus from the Federal Reserve and Treasury
Department, would create roughly $17,000 in new debt for every American
"Not a good deal," he wrote.
Trump, in a rare public rebuke against another Republican, punched back on
Twitter: "Throw Massie out of the Republican Party."
The Congressional Budget Office reported weeks before the coronavirus
outbreak that the national debt was already on track to reach nearly 100% of
the gross domestic product in just 10 years. The current package, and a
subsequent round of government intervention already being discussed, will
substantially escalate that timeline.
The budget office is not expected to release specific projections on the
fiscal impact of the legislation until after it's passed. Not including the
rescue package, the current national debt exceeds $23.5 trillion, which is $3.5
trillion more than when Trump took office.
The coronavirus spending surge will put heightened pressure on lawmakers to
cut the social safety net in the coming year, including Social Security and
Medicare. Trump and leading Democratic rival Joe Biden have both promised not
to touch the popular entitlement programs, yet they consume a disproportionate
share of government spending.
"The future will be more painful," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the
Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Still, she added: "This is definitely not the time to worry about the
deficit. This is the time to be borrowing as much as we need to deal with the
huge health crisis."
Grover Norquist, one of Washington's most notorious fiscal hawks, praised a
series of temporary deregulations in the legislation that he hopes might
permanently eliminate bureaucracy controlling such things as medical
professionals' ability to work in other states, the use of health savings
accounts and liquor store deliveries.
He predicted that the rescue package could actually lead to a "more open
society with more freedom."
"There's no permanent damage," Norquist said. "On balance, it seems to have
been the best you could do under the circumstances."