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George Voinovich, Fiscal Chicken Hawk

My friend Dana Milbank has an encomium to retiring Senator George Voinovich, Deficit Hawk:

What has lighted Voinovich's fuse is the legislature's utter inability to do anything about the looming debt crisis. As the lame-duck Congress draws to a close, the only debate is about whether to add $4 trillion to the national debt (as the Republicans' tax-cut plan would do) or only $3 trillion (as the Democrats' plan would do).
"I'm voting against everything," declared Voinovich, one of the last of the old-school deficit hawks.

I'm willing to stipulate that Voinovich disagrees with his party's direction and that the deficit would be lower if Voinovich could rule by fiat. That said, Voinovich's record is simply not that of a deficit hawk. He did vote against the 1999 Republican tax cuts. But then he voted for the larger 2001 Bush tax cuts. He voted for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He voted against the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, and at no point seems to have offered support in return for strengthening the cost-saving provisions.

He did have a moment in the deficit hawk sun by briefly opposing the 2003 tax cuts, but that proved ineffectual, as I wrote at the time:

Earlier this year, it appeared the moderates had dealt a serious blow to Bush's tax cut when they voted to restrain its ten-year cost to $350 billion rather than the president's preferred $726 billion. Perhaps the most prominent advocate of this plan was Ohio Republican George Voinovich, who had made his name as a deficit-hawk mayor and governor and had voted against a $792 billion GOP tax cut in 1999. In a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Voinovich spoke at length about the growing deficit and asserted that further tax cuts will "undermine our economy instead of stimulating it." By this logic, he should have opposed any tax cut. But, after yet another soliloquy against deficit-financed tax cuts, he concluded, "So the point I'm making is that this three hundred fifty billion dollar package is a responsible package." In fact, the point he made suggested just the opposite. Voinovich's incoherance undermines his self-proclaimed principles.
The other fatal flaw in the position embraced by Voinovich and fellow moderates is that the condition they demanded--holding the tax cut to $350 billion--meant essentially nothing. This is because in recent years the GOP has perfected the art of rapidly phasing in and phasing out tax cuts in order to lower their official costs. The 2001 tax cut, for instance, delayed implementation of many tax cuts and ended others abruptly. This year, Senate Republicans again made full use of such gimmickry, passing a "$350 billion" tax cut that, realistically accounted for, would drain perhaps as much as $1 trillion from federal coffers during the next ten years. Unsurprisingly, arch-conservative Tom DeLay gladly acceded to the "$350 billion" ceiling, explaining to The New York Times, "Numbers don't mean anything."
Take its most obvious gimmick: the decision to have the dividend-tax repeal end after just four years. Voinovich, pathetically, says this will "force us to look at what we have done and make us study whether it has an impact on the economy." In fact, it will do no such thing: The only purpose of the phase-out is to keep down the apparent cost of the tax bill; once the dividend repeal is in place, Republicans will argue overwhelmingly that allowing it to expire would constitute a "tax increase."

So basically Voinovich cooperated with every major bill to increase the deficit, and opposed the most important effort to curtail it. He is widely described as a deficit hawk, and I assume he must be criticizing the GOP's tax cuts uber alles approach off the record to the media in order to earn this label. What counts is how he voted, and Voinovich voted to make the deficit bigger. And that is a big part of the story of the Republican moderates -- overwhelmingly, they have simply lacked the guts to put their principles into action.