Goodlatte and Cantor pick the wrong flashback

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Rep. Bob Goodlatte published a commentary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier in the week that began with this:

Imagine if your government were as focused on saving money as it is on spending money.

Flash back to March 2, 1995. On that day, the U.S. Senate failed — by one vote — to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment had previously passed the House by the required two-thirds majorit, and the Senate vote was the last legislative hurdle before ratification by the states.

If that amendment had passed, then we would not be facing the fiscal crisis we now face. If that amendment had passed, then balancing the budget would have been the rule rather than the exception, and we wouldn’t be facing the annual deficits and skyrocketing debt that we must address today.

The right-wing faith in a balanced budget amendment is charming but wrongheaded. A balanced budget amendment is a really, really bad idea that would straitjacket the nation when it needs flexibility the most. And an amendment doesn’t make any of the hard choices necessary to get our fiscal house in order any easier.

In any case, Cantor and Goodlatte are flashing back to the wrong moment. The key moment leading to the current fiscal crisis was not March 2, 1995, when a wrongheaded constitutional amendment failed, it was in 2001 when President George W. Bush inherited a surplus and quickly worked to pass the first in a series of tax cuts that, along with wars he didn’t pay for and an unprecedented – and unpaid for – expansion of Medicare, would turn that surplus into the largest deficits ever seen.

It’s interesting to remember that then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan at the time was warning the most serious fiscal issue facing the United States was paying down the debt too quickly. In January 2001 congressional testimony, Greenspan said, “The most recent projections from the OMB indicate that, if current policies remain in place, the total unified surplus will reach $800 billion in fiscal year 2011, including an on-budget surplus of $500 billion.” He warned that paying off the debt so quickly could result in added expenses as bonds would have to be bought back from investors before they matured. The specter of zero debt also raised issues about the federal government investing surplus funds in private investments.

So, in order to stave off such calamities, Greenspan endorsed the Bush tax cuts – though he wanted them to include deficit triggers that would automatically reduce them if red ink returned.

As we all know, he didn’t get that. So the Bush tax cuts passed, with another round in 2002 and a third in 2003, even as the deficit returned. Then Bush decided to put the massively expensive Iraq war on the federal credit card, along with a huge expansion of Medicare benefits. Throw in financial deregulation that led to a near-collapse of the global financial system and the bursting of the housing bubble, and you have the real reason for the “the annual deficits and skyrocketing debt that we must address today.”

Republicans can try to rewrite history all they like, but the facts won’t change. Bush came into office with projected surpluses as far as the eye could see and he squandered them on tax cuts for the wealthy that have yet to produce any of the promised benefits to the American economy.

Now Republicans threaten to hurl the economy into disaster unless Democrats agree to deal with the debt that Republicans created solely using discredited Republican strategies.

Again, I ask, is possible to impeach an entire party?

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