The Convenient Fiscal Restraint of Conservatism

A study from Depaul University political science professor Wayne Steger shows what has been obvious to anyone paying attention all along, that conservative Republicans only seem interested in fiscal responsibility when a Democrat is in office.

The study looked at how often the National Review, the preeminent magazine of conservative opinion, talks about terms like “balanced budget” and “cut spending” over time. The results are entirely unsurprising:

Steger - balanced budget

Steger - cut spending

As Gregory Koger says about this study:

One explanation for these trends is that balancing the federal budget is not a genuine priority of conservative opinion-makers. Rather, it is a set of arguments trotted out while the opposing party is making budgetary decisions (presumably favoring Democratic constituencies), then shelved when Republicans are directing federal spending (including tax cuts) toward their constituents.

And that is the correct explanation. The claim of fiscal responsibility is nothing but a marketing slogan, one that is trotted out to sell themselves only when Democrats are in office.


  1. colnago80 says

    This is much like columnist George Will’s attention to term limits. When Rethuglicans are in power, you never hear his pro-term limits rants. Let the Democrats take power and suddenly the calls for term limits flow from his word processor.

  2. says

    Hey, I know Wayne Steger! Not that that has any relevance, really. I mean, I’d trust him not to manipulate the data to prove a point, but, yeah, this is pretty obvious.

  3. greg1466 says

    Yes, this is patently obvious. Especially when you look at the growth rate of the federal deficit based on which party is in control. However, I’m sure the Republicans would simply explain this data with something along the lines of …

    Of course we don’t talk about fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets and spending cuts as much when a Republican is president. That is because when a Republican is president, there’s no need to talk about them because they are already being done!

  4. caseloweraz says

    Hey, Jude Wanniski said
    “Republicans: don’t make it better.
    Remember to call for lowering tax;
    Then you’ll have a sure-fire vote-getter.”

    Jude Wanniski is known for his “Two Santa Claus theory” describing a political strategy by which Republicans could increase their electability. He also crusaded for suppply-side economics. However, in 1997 he pointed out that Iraq had no WMD after November 1991 and in 2003 he vocally opposed the Iraq War.

  5. raven says

    Here is the latest example of GOP fiscal restraint.

    We know the Tea Party Temper Tantrum cost the USA a lot. One estimate is $24 billion. For no real reason.

    GOP fiscal restraint = destroying the USA rather than having Obama succeed.

    Government Shutdown Cost $24 Billion, Standard & Poor’s Says

    The firm said the shutdown caused it to cut its forecast of gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter by at least 0.6 percentage point. The agency lowered its estimate for GDP growth to close to 2 percent from 3 percent.

    The estimate represents a staggering cost to the economy of a completely self-inflicted political catastrophe. Unlike the 2008 economic crisis and other past recessions, the government shutdown had nothing to do with larger economic trends. The numbers show Washington’s brinksmanship caused real damage beyond furloughed government workers and the Washington, D.C., region.
    huffingtonpost. com/2013/10/16/government-shutdown-cost_n_4110818.html

  6. Michael Heath says

    Gregory Koger writes:

    One explanation for these trends is that balancing the federal budget is not a genuine priority of conservative opinion-makers. Rather, it is a set of arguments trotted out while the opposing party is making budgetary decisions (presumably favoring Democratic constituencies) . .

    Koger should have partnered with an economist. That way he wouldn’t have needed to presume anything and instead could have asserted that Republicans oppose government investment and spending that optimizes economic growth.

  7. raven says

    Paul Krugman NYT
    October 17, 2013, 7:59 am 89 Comments

    What A Drag

    As many people have been pointing out, the economic costs of GOP attempts to rule by extortion didn’t begin with the shutdown/debt crisis, and haven’t ended with the (temporary?) resolution of that crisis.

    The now widely-cited Macroeconomic Advisers report estimated the cost of crisis-driven fiscal policy at 1 percentage point off the growth rate for three years, or roughly 3 percent now.

    More than half of this estimated cost comes from the “fiscal drag” of falling discretionary spending, with the rest coming from a (shaky) estimate of the impacts of fiscal uncertainty on borrowing costs.

    I’ve been looking a bit harder at that report, and while I am in broad agreement with its conclusion, I think it’s missing quite a lot. On balance, I’d argue that the negative effect of the crazies has been even worse than MA says.

    More on GOP fiscal malpractice.

    Krugman estimates that the GOP has cut 1/3 or 1% off our GDP growth rate, 3% to 2%. Since our growth rate is anemic already, that really matters

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