A decade ago this September, Americans marched on our nation’s capital by the tens of thousands, saying they were fed up with out-of-control government spending. The Taxpayer March on Washington, organized by the group FreedomWorks and supported by the nascent tea party movement, had as its mission “to take a stand against politicians who are bankrupting our future,” according to FreedomWorks.
At the event, an Indiana congressman who then served as chair of the House Republican Conference declared, “Republicans, Democrats and independents are stepping up and demanding we put our fiscal house in order. I think the overriding message after years of borrowing, spending and bailouts is enough is enough.”
In 2011, speaking against raising the national debt ceiling, that same congressman said, “If President Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling, he should recognize that it's his responsibility, it's his problem, and come to the Congress and ask us to step forward and help him solve that problem by cutting spending now, capping spending and sending a balanced budget amendment to the states.”
That Republican, Mike Pence, is now the U.S. vice president. Last week, Pence was silent as President Donald Trump announced a deal that would suspend the debt ceiling until 2021 — after the 2020 presidential election — and lift spending limits by $320 billion. As for the tea party: crickets.
As for Trump, there seems to be a historical tweet for every occasion. “I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling — I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!” Trump tweeted in 2013. Since he became president, The Washington Post reported, the nation has accrued 9.4 percent of the total cumulative national debt in just 32 months.
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None of this should suggest that Democrats have been great stewards of the public purse. They joined Republicans and Trump in agreeing to the latest debt ceiling suspension. But it’s always Republicans who talk a big game when it comes to debt reduction — and in the end it’s just that: talk.
We saw that play out in Louisiana under Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. When Jindal took office in 2008, our state had a nearly $1 billion surplus; when he left eight years later, Louisiana was $2 billion in the hole. Current Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is running for re-election this fall, has made a campaign point of his leadership role in shoring up state finances.
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Edwards’ chief re-election opponents, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone, have room to criticize Edwards on Louisiana’s sluggish economy compared to the rest of the nation. However, on fiscal matters Edwards has been strong if not exciting. The fiduciary drama during his tenure has come from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, whose obstinance and grandstanding over not raising taxes — which every responsible lawmaker and analyst agreed was necessary to cover the Jindal deficit — required three special sessions in 2018 alone.
As the campaign heats up, we’re all going to hear a lot of noise from Republicans about “fiscal conservatism.” Voters would do well to ignore such noise and look at the record. It was GOP leadership that put Louisiana in the hole.