NEW YORK – Republicans who have spent the past decade howling about the danger of ballooning deficits embraced the coronavirus rescue package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, shrugging off past concerns about spending in the face of a public health crisis.
In many cases, the conservatives who backed the $2 trillion bill – the largest economic relief measure in U.S. history – were the very same who raged against the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package backed by the Obama administration.
But facing the unprecedented threat of a global pandemic – and working under a Republican president who has largely brushed off concerns about debt and deficits – the GOP was willing to overlook an unprecedented flood of taxpayer spending.
Leading budget hawk Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who insisted in 2009 that government cannot spend its way out of a recession, last week joined a unanimous Senate majority that approved what he described as “the biggest government intervention in the economy in the history of the world.”
“This is a response to an invasion,” he told reporters. “This is the kind of thing you'd have to do if we were at war.”
Like other conservatives, he noted that much of the nation's current economic distress was caused by the government's social distancing orders, while the Obama stimulus was in response to a crisis created by the private sector.
Even before the health crisis struck, the Republican-aligned fiscal conservative movement had dramatically diminished under Trump, who has pushed the nation's budget deficit to heights not seen in nearly a decade.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump's outgoing chief of staff and a former GOP congressman aligned with the tea party, told a private audience last month that the GOP only worries about deficits “when there is a Democrat in the White House,” according to a report in The Washington Post.
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, Washington's leading fiscal conservative watchdog, which Toomey previously led, raised the possibility that the coronavirus package could push this year's budget deficit to $4 trillion. The largest annual deficit in U.S. history was $1.4 trillion in 2009.
“Yes, it's too much, and we're worried about overall spending, but we recognize something has to be done,” McIntosh said in an interview.
The Congressional Budget Office reported weeks before the coronavirus outbreak that the national debt was on track to reach nearly 100% of the gross domestic product in just 10 years. The current package, and a subsequent round of government intervention already being discussed, will substantially escalate that timeline.