Opinion: The red ink keeps piling up in Washington

ajc.com

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department reported that Uncle Sam ran a budget deficit of $174 billion in the month of June, pushing the 2021 federal shortfall to over $2.2 trillion.

The news barely made a ripple on Capitol Hill, where neither party has come close to balancing the budget in the last 20 years.

Since 2001, the red ink has kept rising, pushing the national debt to over $28 trillion. 2021 may bring a second straight year with a deficit of more than $3 trillion.

Over the years, the Republican fervor for a balanced budget has waned, going from a litmus test for many in the party to an afterthought under President Trump.

In late April, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, again introduced a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but it didn’t even merit a press release from his office.

Two other Georgia Republicans, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, have also sponsored balanced budget plans, but those have gone nowhere even when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House.

While the GOP has been very successful in cutting taxes, Republicans have long shied away from major spending cuts.

Back in 1995, when he was Speaker of the House, Georgia’s Newt Gingrich proposed turning the Pentagon ‘into a triangle’ — making the case for budget cuts both in defense and domestic social programs.

The idea went nowhere.

The Republican retreat on budget restraint culminated in $5.6 trillion in new deficits in Donald Trump’s one term in office, despite promises that his big tax cut would raise revenues and reduce red ink.

As for Democrats, their main fiscal stance in the past 20 years has been to call for the repeal of GOP tax cuts for the wealthy, arguing they have led directly to higher deficits.

But apart from a few Senate moderates who have refused to go along with big spending plans, Democrats have done little about balancing the budget.

Just this week, Democrats and President Biden agreed to forge a $3.5 trillion tax and spending package. Their goal is to pay for all the spending, but there’s certainly no talk about bringing down the deficit at the same time.

In a letter last month, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, called for ‘increased fiscal responsibility,’ asking Democratic leaders for ‘meaningful steps to get our fiscal house in order.’

But Bourdeaux is one of just a handful of Democrats in Congress raising red flags about her party’s spending, and the lack of any meaningful deficit reduction.

Forty years ago, when President Jimmy Carter went back to his peanut farm in Plains, Georgia, the 1981 federal deficit was just $79 billion.

Congress would love to have a deficit that small in 2021. But no one seems to be doing much to make it happen.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com