Charles E. Richardson

The deficit and debt don’t matter until they do

When President Barack Obama assumed the presidency on Jan. 20, 2009, the Great Recession was in full throat. The Dow was at 7,949. Unemployment sat at 7.8 percent and would hit 10 percent during his first year in office. The national debt was $10 trillion and the deficit that year would be $1.4 trillion.

Fast forward eight years to when Obama handed the keys to the White House to Donald Trump. The Dow was at 19,732. Unemployment was 4.7 percent and the debt stood at $19.54 trillion and the 2016 deficit was $585 billion.

If you remember, While Obama was in office, Republicans were howling at the top of their lungs about the debt and the deficit (they are not the same by the way). You would have thought the sky was set to fall immediately.

Now, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency and the deficit and the debt seems of little importance to them — until it does. Let me explain. If you don’t get anything else out of this column, remember this. The deficit and debt, don’t matter until they do.

The House Tax Bill passed with 227 Republicans and not a single Democrat. The Senate version passed 51-49, again, by design, without a single Democrat. You might remember the gnashing of teeth from Republicans when virtually the same thing happened when the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, but Democrats in the Senate passed it with a super majority 60–39, and they didn’t employ the filibuster avoidance technique used by Republicans this time. In the House, the ACA passed 220–215 with one Republican voting with Democrats.

In the context of this column, the vote tally isn’t important, but this part is very crucial to remember. The tax bill, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, is expected to raise the national debt by $1 trillion, and that’s after factoring in any new economic growth brought on by lower tax rates.

See, deficits and debt don’t matter, particularly when it comes to Republicans cutting the tax rate for corporations that are already making so much money they have to hoard it overseas or when giving tax breaks to the rich and famous.

But we all know, deficits and debt do matter.

That’s why Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told those of us who aren’t so rich and famous to watch out for the train speeding toward us on Ross Kaminsky’s Denver talk radio show last Wednesday.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said. “. . . Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”

You have to laugh about some of this stuff if only to keep from crying — and from snatching what little hair you might have left from your head — and to keep yourself sane.

Let me translate what Ryan said so everyone is clear. “We gave corporations and rich folks a $1 trillion tax break which knowingly added to our debt and deficit. Now, in order to pay for those, we’ll have to cut health care for the poor, middle class and elderly.”

Ryan also used the word “entitlements” but his definition, like that of many Republicans, makes it pejorative. The B clause of “entitlement,” according to Merriam-Webster is, “a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract.” The federal government deducts 2.9 percent, split evenly from employee and employer, every paycheck, for Medicare.

Let me make it personal. I expect to use my other “entitlement” — Social Security, because I’ve been paying into the system since I was 14-years-old. Every paycheck I’ve earned for 52 years, the government has taken its cut. This year its 12.4 percent, split evenly from me and my employer. And hell yes, I’m entitled to it. It’s not a gift, it’s what I’ve earned, and so have most of you.