Republicans suddenly care about 'deficit' as they try to stop virus aid

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Republicans are pressing pause on more coronavirus aid, saying that adding to the country's debt would be unacceptable — despite passing a tax bill in 2017 that is resulting in huge deficit increases.

Americans facing financial ruin as a result of coronavirus stay-at-home measures may not receive any more help from the federal government, as Republicans say they want to put a hold on any new relief packages over fears about the federal deficit.

Democrats have proposed more coronavirus aid, including more direct payments to struggling Americans; beefed-up social safety net programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance; funding for state and local governments facing deficits as a result of the coronavirus; and money for testing in order to help reopen the economy.

However, congressional Republicans and Trump administration officials oppose the Democratic proposals, saying they're worried that more coronavirus relief will lead to an increase in the federal deficit.

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These are the same GOP lawmakers and Trump administration officials who supported the Republican-sponsored Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that is projected to add $1.9 trillion to the deficit in the next decade, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

"We've got to figure out now how we're going to pay for it," Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told Bloomberg News, adding that if the relief bills aren't paid for, "we’re going to ruin this economy."

Scott was not in Congress when Republicans passed the GOP tax cuts.

But Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) was. He voted for the tax bill, but is now once again concerned with the deficit as Congress weighs new spending in response to the coronavirus.

"We need to be really careful here," Toomey told Politico on April 29. "We are challenging the limit of how much we can borrow without serious adverse effects. We now have debt that's over 100% of GDP. We're running a deficit that's more than twice as a percentage of our economy."

Meanwhile, as Republicans sound off about the deficit, Trump is demanding that Congress pass yet more tax cuts that would add even more to the deficit while not doing anything to help the more than 30 million Americans who now find themselves out of work.

Republicans claim that Democrats oppose Trump's push to reopen the economy because they want to block his reelection — even though public health experts say it's not yet safe to reopen.

Economists say that even if the economy is reopened, it won't bounce back as quickly as Trump has said it would, with the possibility of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic dragging on for years.

And economists say that now is not the time to worry about the deficit.

"One way or another, you pay a price," Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Republican and former head of the CBO, told Politico in April. "But if you take care of the budget at the expense of the economy, you're making a mistake."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.