Reagan proved deficits don’t matter

“All of us should remember that the federal government is not some mysterious institution comprised of buildings, files and paper. The people are the government. What we create we ought to be able to control. I do not intend to make wildly skyrocketing deficits and runaway government simple facts of life in this administration.” President Ronald Reagan, Jan. 29, 1981.

“I admire that about the Republicans: The evidence does not faze them. … They are not bothered at all by the facts.” President Bill Clinton, Oct. 20, 2000.

The Republican Party claims that one of their bedrock principles is fiscal responsibility.

This should mean they are good stewards of our tax money, spending it wisely to protect and benefit the American people. They claim that Democrats spend wastefully on frivolous things like food stamps and education. How well do these claims stack up to reality?

This column’s title is a quote from Vice-president Dick Cheney, when the GW Bush administration was cutting taxes while borrowing money to fight two wars. Cheney was acknowledging that Reagan sent deficits skyrocketing while tripling the national debt. This model was then followed by Bush. Cut taxes, borrow and let someone else clean up the mess.

A recent column in the LVN discussed how politicians will spend money if you give them money. (That’s what they’re elected to do, but no matter.) The column reminded me of a friend whose husband was extremely tight with their money. He gave her a very small grocery allowance, which she managed as best she could. He then complained that they hardly ever had meat for dinner. She tried to explain that her budget wasn’t big enough, but he was having none of that.

Finally, she convinced him to come shopping with her. He chose what he thought were economical items, and when they got to the check stand, he was stunned at the total. He was honest enough to realize that she needed more money, so he gave it to her. Did she spend it all? Of course, but not because she was being profligate. She just hadn’t been given enough before.

It costs money to run a city, or county, or state, or country. Republicans have been practicing “Borrow and spend” for decades, while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and then complaining that debt is ruining our economy. Historically, how do Republicans and Democrats compare in managing our nation’s finances and economy?

We have some specific real-life examples to consider. When Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, he promised to “cut up the state’s credit card” and bring spending under control. Instead, he nearly tripled the state’s debt. California’s budget deficits became larger than most states’ entire budgets, and its debt repayment in 2010-11 alone was $5.5 billion. When Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor, he turned the state’s finances around. The 2013-14 budget had a surplus of $4.2 billion, which is reducing California’s debt.

Nationally, we saw a similar story. President Clinton balanced the budget and reduced the deficit to zero; he was paying down the national debt. He left a huge surplus, which President GW Bush then gave away to the wealthy while doubling the national debt. In eight years, Clinton created 22.7 million jobs. GW Bush created 1.3 million total, mostly government jobs.

These examples illustrate a general principle: The economy does better under Democratic administrations. On average, between 1933 and now, Republican presidents have increased jobs by 0.21 percent while Democrats have increased jobs by 3.24 percent. Since 1946, Republican presidents increased the national debt by an average of 9.7 percent per year, while Democratic presidents increased it an average of only 3.2 percent per year.

Every single Democratic president since 1945 has reduced the size of government, while most Republican presidents have increased its size. Republican presidents out-borrowed and outspent Democrats; they have shown repeatedly they don’t know how to manage money or government. The last fiscally responsible Republican president was Dwight Eisenhower.

The true bedrock principle of modern Republicans has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility. It is “We hate Obama.” If a Democrat is elected in 2016, this mantra will just be transferred to that person. Republicans have no new ideas and no record on which to run. Their solution to everything is to cut taxes and regulations, but tax breaks won’t help much when everything is literally falling apart. And Republicans will still be blaming everyone else for their failings. Reagan taught them well.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment