In a stunning move, the Republican-led U.S. Senate has just passed a concurrent budget resolution that will increase the federal debt by a whopping 10 trillion dollars. Under the questionable leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate voted to authorize a national debt of over $29 trillion over the next years.
This increase may come as a shock to their constituents, as fear-mongering and hand-wringing over the national debt has been a staple of many Republican political campaigns for decades. Republican senators have frequently criticized President Obama over the federal debt, even in the midst of the Great Recession. And the federal debt has been a constant complaint from Republican politicians in both the House and Senate for the past eight years.
In 2011, the House of Representatives even triggered a debt ceiling crisis, citing their concerns about the deficit and federal debt. At the time, McConnell seemed so concerned about the federal debt that he compared defaulting on U.S. debts as, “a hostage you might take a chance at shooting.” Republicans got what they wanted, which was $917 billion worth of cuts to the federal budget in exchange for a $900 increase in the debt. Without this agreement, the U.S. government would have ceased to properly function, but Republicans were presumably so concerned about the federal debt they were willing to take that chance.
Donald Trump also railed against the federal debt while he was campaigning for President. He stated that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would raise the deficit and debt, contrast with his own plans to lower them “big league.” He even promised that “we’re gonna stop our deficits, we’re gonna do it very quickly,” while campaigning. Although Trump frequently conflated the concepts of “debt” and “deficit,” making it apparent that his opinions were ill-informed, he did repeatedly state that the federal debt was too high.
But now, Republican Senators have apparently changed their minds, and Trump seems to support their decision. On January 4th, the Senate passed a concurrent budget resolution that spells out the congressional budget for 2017 and the appropriate budgetary levels for 2018-2026. This concurrent resolution raises the federal debt by an amazing $10 trillion over the next decade, all the way up to $29 trillion. And in a surprising move, with one exception, every single Republican Senator voted for it. Effectively, Republican Senators went back on every single campaign promise they ever made to lower the national debt.
The lone exception to this near-unanimous approval of increasing the federal debt was Senator Rand Paul, the Junior Republican Senator from Kentucky. Paul, son of perennial contrarian Ron Paul, has been consistent in his disapproval of high federal deficits and an expanding federal debt. Senator Paul is a fiscal conservative with libertarian leanings, which may explain why he broke with his party to take a principled stand against increasing the debt and possibly enlarging the size of the U.S. government.
There has been no public response from President-Elect Donald Trump on this complete Republican reversal on the topic of the national debt. It is also unclear whether or not the Republican voters will approve of this bizarre and hypocritical move from their representatives. It is possible that Republican Senators hope that their constituents will not notice their vote. Or perhaps, Republicans now embrace running an enormous national debt because they will be the ones spending all of the money.