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McConnell Refutes Himself

The defining theme of the fiscal debate during President Obama's first two years is that, on every dispute over long-term policy, Democrats have favored deficit-reducing measures, while Republicans have favored deficit-increasing measures. You can blame the Democrats for failing to do more to reduce the deficit, though you'd have trouble showing where the votes for even more deficit reduction would come from. But the notion that Democrats have been more profligate than Republicans is simply false.

The most recent such fight is over extension of those parts of the Bush tax cuts that only benefit Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. Mitch McConnell, who has been lamenting deficits and debt for a year and a half, offers this rationale for opposing the deficit-cutting measure of eliminating those tax cuts:

“Democrats spent the last two years putting government in charge of health care, the financial sector, car companies, insurance companies, student loans — you name it,” Mr. McConnell said in his speech, as the Senate resumed work after a five-week recess. “Now they want the tax hike to pay for it all.”

This is meant to convey the idea that Democrats have passed a lot of spending programs, and are now trying to finance the cost of these programs that they didn't bother to pay for. This is an inversion of the truth. Let's go through the list:

1. Health care -- the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit over both the ten-year and longer-term budget window. The measures in the bill that reduce the deficit are those that attracted the most attacks from McConnell's party.

2. Financial reform -- it's unclear whether McConnell is referring to TARP, a one-time measure that he supported and which is being steadily repaid, or to new financial regulations. Neither is a good example of his claim.

3. Car companies -- this was another one-time expenditure, the cost of which is likely to be mostly or entirely recouped. In any case, it is not an ongoing program, and cancelling the Bush upper-income tax cuts is not a way to pay for it.

4. Insurance companies -- this is a repetitive mention of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell is referring to regulations forbidding discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, not to any outlay of funds.

5. Student loans -- this was another money-saving reform that reduced government expenditures by eliminating a federal subsidy to private lenders. McConnell defended the old, higher-cost program but lost. If he had won, the long-term tax burden would be higher.

That's it. That's the whole list. It's designed to create the impression that the Democrats have increased the deficit and are now trying to pay for it on the backs of the richest 2% of taxpayers. But it proves the opposite of McConnell's point.