Republican Opposition to Stimulus Checks Has Nothing to Do With the Deficit | Opinion

Much of what the coronavirus pandemic has brought on is unprecedented—from skyrocketing unemployment to physical separation of entire societies. It's therefore reasonable to expect an unprecedented government response to match. So why are we getting a sense of déjà vu from the GOP?

Republican leaders are tamping down calls for a second round of stimulus checks using the same tired, old and disingenuous excuse that their party has used for decades: the deficit. In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday, GOP senators questioned the "wisdom" of "another big spending bill." And last week, a coalition of conservative leaders wrote a letter urging President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to halt further coronavirus relief, arguing that "runaway government spending is the new virus afflicting the economy."

These arguments are part of a broader effort by the GOP to lay the political groundwork to call for drastic cuts in relief spending next year if Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats win big in November.

Supposed "concerns about the deficit" are nothing new for the GOP. The deficit is a catchall excuse regularly trotted out by Republican politicians when they simply don't want to do something, usually related to social programs for working families, the sick and the elderly. It has just as much meaning during this crisis as it did at any point during the past few decades, which is to say: absolutely nothing.

I live in Tennessee, and as a millionaire, I benefit from the GOP's disingenuous appeals to fiscal responsibility when it comes to social programs, but outright negligence when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars to wage war or benefit wealthy donors and corporations.

During the financial crisis of 2008, a GOP-led Congress under President George W. Bush pushed hundreds of billions of dollars in no-strings-attached bailouts to the big banks that caused the crisis, reauthorized funding for a multitrillion-dollar war in Afghanistan and voted to keep Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy in that year's budget, despite the fact that these moves caused the deficit to skyrocket.Barely a year later, GOP leaders cited "concern about the deficit" as a reason for launching the Astroturf Tea Party movement to block economic reform for the entirety of President Barack Obama's two terms, despite the fact that he actually substantially reduced the deficit that Bush had created.

Then, in 2017, under a new Republican president who ran on eliminating all federal debt, the GOP approved the single largest overhaul of our tax code in decades and blew a $1.8 trillion hole in the debt without a peep of disapproval. All that "concern" evaporated when it came to doling out money to rich folks and corporations.

Yet now, when it's working people who desperately need the kind of massive cash infusion Republicans have given the wealthy for generations, they claim to be concerned about the deficit again. Democratic leaders and voters alike must call it for the calculated bluff that it is.

Millions of Americans are out of work, out of money and out of options, and their only hope is the federal government. Yet, after securing half a trillion dollars for a corporate slush fund and $170 billion in further tax breaks for the top 1 percent, the GOP has apparently decided that spending more federal money on any public program will automatically throw the economy into an irreversible tailspin.

unemployment line Kentucky
Hundreds of unemployed Kentucky residents wait in long lines outside the Kentucky Career Center for help with their unemployment claims on June 19 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Many Americans are hoping for a second round of stimulus checks from the federal government. John Sommers II/Getty

Once again, Republican lawmakers have one set of values for themselves, which includes unlimited spending, protecting corporations and tax cuts for the wealthy, and a completely different one for the American people. The double standard for wealthy donors and corporate pals versus the poor and working class is glaring, and an obvious sign of where the GOP's priorities actually lie.

Republican members of Congress need to stop worrying that the poor will abuse the system to get benefits and start worrying about our economy's long-term health. After all, it should be obvious that the best thing we can do to fix the deficit is invest in our own recovery. Allowing apocalyptic levels of unemployment to rise without additional financial relief will create a crisis that will drive revenues down for years to come—and effectively make deficit-spending the law of the land.

We have the choice to invest strategically and widely in our recovery right now. With Fed interest rates slashed to zero, the government can essentially borrow money for free. Inflation has long been used as an excuse to limit excessive government spending, but in recent months deflation has actually become a greater concern than out-of-control inflation. There is virtually no risk in spending too much, but potentially cataclysmic consequences if we spend too little.

At a time of crisis, faux concern about the deficit cannot be used as a shield to shirk the government's duty to its citizens. Concern for people—and the long-term survival of our economy—should be the only guiding principle our leaders follow at this moment.

Stephen Prince founded Card Marketing Services in 1993 and is vice chair of the Patriotic Millionaires.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.