“Republicans and Democrats alike have been responsible for increasing the spending, but it’s always Democrats wanting to spend more than the Republicans,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said on March 10.
The Republican mea culpas on the national debt follow years of demands for spending cuts to reduce the debt, including threats that nearly resulted in the U.S. government defaulting on its debt in 2011. Now, many of those same Republicans have returned to their Obama-era posture of opposing most new spending that would either add to the national debt or that would be financed with tax increases. You can watch examples of how Republican rhetoric on deficit spending has evolved in recent years in the video above.
Debt as a percentage of GDP is now at the highest level since World War II, largely due to coronavirus-related deficit spending. But the debt-to-GDP ratio was rising even before then after the 2017 Trump tax cut added $1.5 trillion to the debt and spending increases significantly expanded the budget deficit.
“We think having a debt the size of our economy for the first time since World War II already doesn’t argue for adding $2 trillion more when the country is clearly on the way back,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month.
But during the Trump presidency, Republicans could be quick to qualify the debt expansion under a president who promised to eliminate the national debt in eight years.
“Do I wish that it was a higher priority for the president to rein in spending and the debt? Yes,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said in an interview with Axios shortly before the 2020 presidential election. “He didn’t run, principally, on reining in spending and the deficit and debt. That’s not what he promised to do.”
Asked moments later if the national debt would again become a priority for Republicans after the 2020 election, Cruz replied, “Oh sure. Sure.”