GOP Hopes to Blame Democrats for Bipartisan Spending


  • In 2017, the US national debt surpassed $20 trillion for the first time.
  • Former President Donald Trump added about $7.8 trillion to the debt with spending and tax cuts.
  • The debt ceiling needs to be raised to cover past fiscal decisions.

Not many people outside the Beltway truly understand what the US’s debt ceiling is or how and when it needs to be raised. And Senate Republicans are banking on that.

Here’s the link the GOP would like voters to make: that Congress is being asked to raise the debt ceiling — the legal limit on how much the US government can owe its creditors — because President Joe Biden and the Democrats want to spend $3.5 trillion on a plan to expand Medicare, eliminate tuition at community colleges, and provide universal childcare.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been explicit about this. He and his caucus have refused to support raising the debt ceiling at all, forcing Congress to miss a July 30 deadline, at the risk of a government shutdown and an economy-crashing default, insisting that Democrats do it alone as part of that multi-trillion spending plan.

“Democrats won’t get bipartisan help paving a path to partisan recklessness,” the Republican from Kentucky posted on Twitter this week.

It’s not true, however, raising the debt ceiling relates to the US being able to borrow money to pay its current bills, not future debt. As Marketplace explains (emphasis ours), “The debt ceiling, or debt limit, is simply the amount of money that the government is allowed to borrow, which the government uses to meet existing obligations.” 

The Democrats’ social welfare spending has not occurred yet; the legislation authorizing it has not passed Congress.

(Additionally, Democrats maintain that their spending proposal will not add to the national debt at all, arguing that it will be paid for over the next 10 years by increased taxes on corporations and Americans who make over $400,000. That may or may not prove true in the long run.)

The GOP’s hope is that by linking the Democrats’ future spending with raising the debt ceiling now — and relying on their branding as fiscal conservatives — they will be able to sell the debt they themselves incurred on partisan terms.

Leonard Burman, the co-founder of the Tax Policy Center, calls this “toddler fiscal policy.”

“Legislators pass laws they know will increase the debt but postpone increasing the borrowing limit until the country is on the verge of a catastrophic default,” he wrote in a recent commentary. And then the grandstanding begins, with raising the limit either a patriotic necessity or an undue burden on our grandchildren, depending on which party controls the White House and will bear the blame for any economic fallout.

When Donald Trump was president, Republicans raised the debt ceiling multiple times. They had to: the debt ballooned under his watch just as it grew under his predecessors.

The national debt grew by some $1.2 trillion in Trump’s first full fiscal year in office, according to the federal Office of Management and Budget. It grew $4.3 trillion in the next.

All told, the debt expanded by nearly $7.8 trillion in the Trump years, as ProPublica reported, a product, in part, of emergency spending during the pandemic — money that kept the US economy from free-falling and, in more personal terms, kept people fed and in their homes. In fact, that spending spree nearly slashed the US poverty rate in half.

But the debt is also a product of Republicans’ 2017 tax cut, which reduced federal revenues — corporate tax rates dropped from 35% to 21% — without a commensurate cut in federal spending.

Now that the bills are due, and the debt can be pinned on political opponents, the deficit matters, and Republicans are once again moralizing about fiscal responsibility. But don’t be fooled: whether one supports corporate tax cuts or social spending or none of the above, the $28 trillion national debt is about as bipartisan as anythings gets in Washington.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com



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