Skip to comments.Rand Paul Doesna t Know Much about Reagana s Budgets
Posted on 04/29/2014 12:45:39 PM PDT by SoConPubbie
Ramesh and Reasons Nick Gillespie have been going back and forth over Rand Pauls claim (from a number of years ago) that Jimmy Carter was a more fiscally conservative president than Ronald Reagan. Mother Jones collected a series of appearances over the years in which the Kentuckian argues that Reagans budget performance, compared with Carters, is evidence Republicans dont really mean it when they claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism. Gillespie argues that Reagans deficits means he wasnt a fiscal conservative, while Ramesh argues (and Nick seems to agree to some extent) that probably a better measure is rate of increases in spending and Reagan increased spending more slowly than Carter, the opposite of what Paul claims.
A few points on that debate: Gillespie calls Reagan the founder of Groupon government, a very nice phrase by which he means he set us on a trajectory of getting more government than were really paying for, pushing costs onto future generations/customers. But the metric he cites for this, that taxpayers under Reagan paid 82 cents for every dollar government spent, is in line with the number he cites as the historical average, 84 cents (the historical average doesnt extend before 1974, though).
In reality, we have Groupon government because with an aging population and rising health-care costs, providing the same programs the government has run since the 1960s has gotten much more expensive and Americans have refused to raise taxes or kill those programs. Gillespie is right that Reagan didnt do much to address this. But on that front by Gillespies measure, where thriftiness is as much about balancing the budget as it is having a small budget, Reagan didnt do badly, either: He increased the payroll tax and raised the retirement age over time.
Pauls less sophisticated argument for why Reagan is evidence that Republicans arent fiscal conservatives: Spending, including domestic spending, increased more rapidly under Reagan than it did Carter; so Reagan ran deficits several times larger than his predecessor; therefore Republicans arent really fiscally conservative. The first two premises are false.
When his duplicitous rants were publicized, he told Mother Jones the following: I have always been and continue to be a great supporter of Ronald Reagans tax cuts and the millions of jobs they created. Clearly spending during his tenure did not lessen, but he also had to contend with Democrat majorities in Congress. There are a few problems with this: Paul must not be very concerned about the Groupon government Gillespies worried about, if he was a supporter of tax cuts when the deficit was rising. He still hasnt gotten around to admitting that spending didnt drop under Reagan largely because there was a Cold War to fight.
Moreover, in Pauls earlier comments about Reagan and fiscal conservatism, he appears to have made no mention of the Democratic Congress he faced (if he did, his spokesmen havent pointed it out). Theres a debate to be had on why Reagan walked back from some of his small-government promises, but Pauls moving from relying on one explanation to another that tells us much less about Republicans and fiscal conservatism. (One, you might note, was useful as an insurgent Republican candidate running against the establishment in Kentucky; the other is more useful in trying to be the first libertarian to win the presidential nomination in Reagans party.)
Perhaps thats because Paul has looked back at the facts and realized that they dont look anything like he said they do. Heres how.
He claims that Reagans first budget had a gap three times bigger than Jimmy Carters largest deficit. Even without adjusting for the size of the economy, this isnt true: Reagans first budget, Fiscal Year 1982, ran a inflation-adjusted deficit of $270 billion. The previous year, Carter saw his largest deficit, $180 billion Reagans first budget ran up a deficit 1.5 times bigger, not 3 times. Paul is off by a factor of two here, and Reagan never ran up a deficit that was three times the size of Carters largest. (In nominal terms, a.k.a. grossly misleading ones, Paul is still wrong.)
The confusion here may result from the fact that, in another appearance, Paul claims that Carters last budget involved between $34 and $36 billion in debt less than half of what it was ($79 billion in 1981 dollars). These might seem like minor mistakes, but theyre not, for one, and two, if you want to use the numbers, get them right.
Each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagans two terms, Paul claims. This is nonsense: In inflation-adjusted terms, it peaked in 1983, and fell substantially in the years following. (Its possible Paul meant the debt when he said the deficit this was true every year under Carter, too, and this is really not a mistake a senator should make.)
But Reagan did run deficits. Paul wants to claim thats because he was a thorough-going spendthrift.
Domestic spending, he claimed in at least three separate speeches, rose faster under Reagan than it did under Carter. This is complete nonsense: Domestic discretionary spending rose under Carter, and dropped under Reagan:
Yes, this doesnt count entitlements domestic spending almost always refers to domestic discretionary spending, as opposed to defense discretionary spending, a distinction Paul made (there are three main budget categories, plus interest). This is because in large part, year to year, no one, neither the president nor congress, decides how much we do in mandatory spending (entitlements and interest); they can only be slowed in the future, so even if Paul meant that, unconventionally, its unfair to blame Reagan (or Carter, or Obama, or whatever). If you include mandatory domestic spending Social Security, etc., some of which Reagan reformed for the long term Pauls still wrong. Spending at home, if you include entitlements and interest, did increase under Reagan, but not more quickly than under Carter.
Reagan did, of course, as the above chart shows, increase defense spending hugely, something Gillespie took issue with. But Reagan did so at a time of great national insecurity, without going to war. This happens to be basically, most days of the week, the philosophy Paul calls for: His long-term budget consistently increases spending on the military and hes proposed spending billions more than President Obama on missile defense in Eastern Europe, while he cautions against waging actual wars.
Increased defense spending is part of the reason for Reagans deficits. The U.S. also went through a couple recessions and Reagan cut taxes all three explanations arent really sins against conservative fiscal responsibility.
But yes, Reagans deficits were big. Is it because spending exploded? Well, it did go up, but not much more rapidly than it has over the past 40 years (Reagan years shaded):
And Reagan cut taxes substantially, which, combined with a couple recessions, meant that revenues barely rose for most of his term:
Revenues did rise eventually, but raising the same amount of revenue in 1986 that you did in 1981 is a big problem in a growing country.
The one accurate point Paul has, that deficits rose, overstates the case too. Federal deficits exploded under Reagan, he said in one speech. The deficit went through the roof under Reagan, he said at another. This is, most people would agree, exaggerated and as I cited above, he also has claimed that deficits continued to rise, which is objectively wrong. Why? Deficits rose to pretty high levels for a couple years, but they werent of an entirely different scale than what was seen under Carter or in the years after (the Reagan years are highlighted):
Pauls right that Reagan never signed a balanced budget. Thats disappointing to some fiscal conservatives, though many wouldnt have wanted a balanced budget during the Cold War. For other reasons, plenty of conservatives of the National Review stripe and of the Paulite stripe were disappointed with Reagan. But thats very different from Pauls claims that he was outright fiscally irresponsible compared with his peers, a case Paul can only construct when so many of his claims are outright false.
The senator says doesnt doubt Reagans spirit, he says, just the follow-through and effort he put in. Thats a little hard to buy when Reagan was negotiating with a Democratic Congress. There are shades of the kind of wishful thinking that motivated defunding Obamacare here if Reagan had just tried harder, he could have somehow convinced Democrats to do something unthinkable (likely at huge cost to our security, the economy, or both). Paul acknowledged Reagans reality when Mother Jones brought his earlier comments to light. For years, though, hes been peddling random misleading numbers about Reagans fiscal conservatism if he thinks he has a case for why Republicans need to be more fiscally conservative than Reagan was, I hope he has some better numbers somewhere to back it up.
Rand Paul sounding more and more like his nut-case Dad!
Also it must be understood that Reagan had to re-build a fiscally devastated military.
Libertarians didn’t like Reagan.
Ayn Rand despised him and the Libertarians had their best election in history, running against him in 1980 (Romney despised Reagan also, and left the party because of him), Rand Paul has done a lot of Reagan bashing in the past, preferring Jimmy Carter on economic issues, and has also mislead on Reagan and foreign policy and military issues.
If you didn’t like Romney, who Paul was a big supporter of, then you may have noticed how similar some of the Paul supporters are to the Romney supporters, in attacking Reagan.
In 1988, neither Rand Paul, or Mitt Romney, were republicans.
Don’t fall for the Kabuki dance of National Review. They have descended into crap from the moment Bill Buckley died. Now...they are just a bunch of GOP establishment suck ups. I suspect they just take the GOP memos and sign their name to them!
Paul attended Baylor University from fall 1981 to summer 1984. He was enrolled in the honors program at Baylor, and had scored approximately in the 90th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test. During the time he spent at Baylor, he was involved in the swim team and Young Conservatives of Texas and was a member of a secret organization known as the NoZe Brotherhood. Paul left Baylor early when he was accepted into the Duke University School of Medicine, where he earned an M.D. in 1988, and completed his residency in 1993.
About 1988 he was still in medical training. He had been involved with Young Conservatives previously.
In that context, that he was or was not a Republican in 1988 is of no importance whatsoever.
That is just silly, the 35 year old Rand Paul was working on a presidential campaign in 1988, and it was against the GOP.