The Denver Post

GOP and Dem votes helped D.C. pile up debt

- By Jim Tankersley

President Joe Biden will submit his latest budget request to Congress on Thursday, offering what his administra­tion says will be $2 trillion in plans to reduce deficits and future growth of the national debt.

Republican­s, who are demanding deep spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing cap, will almost certainly greet that proposal with a familiar refrain: Biden and his party are to blame for ballooning the debt.

But an analysis of House and Senate voting records, and of fiscal estimates of legislatio­n prepared by the nonpartisa­n Congressio­nal Budget Office, shows that Republican­s bear at least equal blame as Democrats for the biggest drivers of federal debt growth that passed Congress over the past two presidenti­al administra­tions.

The national debt has grown to $31.4 trillion from just under $6 trillion in 2000, bumping against the statutory limit on federal borrowing. That increase, which spanned the presidenti­al administra­tions of two Republican­s and two Democrats, has been fueled by tax cuts, wars, economic stimulus and the growing costs of retirement and health programs. Since 2017, when Donald Trump took the White House, Republican­s and Democrats in Congress have joined together to pass a series of spending increases and tax cuts that the budget office projects will add trillions to the debt.

The analysis is based on the forecasts that the CBO regularly issues for the federal budget. They include descriptio­ns of newly passed legislatio­n that affects spending, revenues and deficits, tallying the costs of those new laws over the course of a decade. Going back to the start of Trump’s tenure, those reports highlight 13 new laws that, by the CBO’S projection­s, will combine to add more than $11.5 trillion to the debt.

Nearly three- quarters of that new debt was approved in bills that gained the support of a majority of Republican­s in at least one chamber of Congress. Three-fifths of it was signed into law by Trump.

Some of those bills were in response to emergencie­s, such as the early rounds of stimulus payments to people and businesses during the pandemic. Others were routine appropriat­ions bills, which increased spending on the military and on domestic issues such as research and education.

Many of the votes were roundly bipartisan: More than 85% of the projected debt added over the past six years passed with a majority of Democratic votes in both chambers. Almost an identical amount of debt passed with at least onethird of Republican votes in the House or Senate. Chief among them were a series of COVID-19 relief measures totaling more than $3 trillion and passing with landslide majorities in 2020.

Some of the laws passed entirely along party lines. In those cases, on net, Republican­s added slightly more to the debt than Democrats.

That’s because of the sweeping corporate and individual tax cuts that Trump signed into law at the end of 2017, which cost $2 trillion. Despite Republican claims that the tax cuts paid for themselves, the CBO estimated last month that Trump’s corporate tax cuts alone would cost the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue in the years to come. Earlier CBO analyses suggest the full slate of tax cuts have already cost the government $1.2 trillion through the 2022 fiscal year.

The tax cuts’ price tag outweighed the net cost of the two most fiscally consequent­ial bills that Biden and Democrats passed along party lines: a $1.9 trillion economic aid bill in 2021 and a climate, health and tax bill approved late last summer, which is projected to reduce future deficits by nearly $300 billion.

House Speaker Kevin Mccarthy of California and many other prominent Republican­s who are now leading the resistance to raising the borrowing limit did vote against large spending bills that other Republican­s backed under Trump and Biden. But they also voted for trillions of dollars in pandemic aid under Trump and roundly backed his tax cuts.

House Republican­s have pushed to extend the 2017 tax cuts, which would add trillions to the debt. They also support rolling back tax increases and enhanced tax enforcemen­t measures approved by Biden, which would have the effect of adding hundreds of billions of dollars to deficits if they were to succeed.

Top congressio­nal Republican­s rarely acknowledg­e the role that their party has played in adding to deficits and debt in recent years, instead laying the blame on Biden and Democrats.

“Biden’s numerous bailouts and massive government expansion disguised as COVID relief has blown out spending and exacerbate­d our debt disaster,” Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas, chair of the House Budget Committee, said last month.

Beyond Congress, Republican candidates have long tweaked their party for not taking a harder line on spending and debt.

“The last two Republican presidents added more than $10 trillion to the national debt,” Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador who is now running for president, told the conservati­ve Club for Growth on Saturday, as reported by Politico. “Think about that. A third of our debt happened under just two Republican­s.”

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