iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Robert J. Elisberg

GET UPDATES FROM Robert J. Elisberg

What "Cutting the Debt" Is Really About

Posted: 06/15/11 10:24 AM ET

There are several ways to know that Republicans do not actually care about the national debt, most particularly not reducing it.

One is to understand that Republicans didn't complain when the previous president, George W. Bush, doubled the national debt to $11 trillion. You'd think that a party supposedly outraged by debt would have been bellowing outrage, wouldn't you? Not one peep.

A second way is to know that in the last 70 years, there have been six full administrations when the national debt increased -- and every single one was Republican.

A third way is to remember that it was Ronald Reagan's Chief of Staff who infamously said, "Budget deficits don't matter." (Deficits and debts of course are kissing cousins.) How outraged were Republicans? They chose that man, Dick Cheney, to be vice president.

But all of these -- clear as they are -- pale when compared to a gaping fourth reason.

We'll get to that in a moment. But first, you must remember what Republicans are crying for when they say that The Most Important Thing is reducing the national debt. When they say they will risk worldwide financial collapse by not raising the credit limit unless the national debt is reduced.

To reduce the national debt, Republicans say that "Everything is On the Table." Everything. Absolutely everything. The most sacred, cherished programs to Americans -- Social Security, Medicare -- they are on the table. Not only on the table, but they're the centerpiece surrounded by doilies and a candelabra. Cutting government pensions for teachers, nurses, janitors, bus drivers, park rangers, that's on the table. too. Remember, Everything is On the Table. Funding for NPR, Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, social issues that touch all Americans, cutting them is on the table. Because Everything -- Everything is On the Table.

"Everything is on the table," Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told ABC's This Week last November.

To cut the national debt, Republicans insist that Everything... truly Everything... is On the Table.

"We have to live within our means," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said on Fox News last December. "It means all of us will sacrifice."

Sacrifice. All of us. Every American. We ALL have to sacrifice. And that's why Everything is On the Table.

Everything.

Absolutely everything.

Except raising taxes for the wealthy.

"Nothing is off the table, except raising taxes," John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters on May 6.

Tax hikes are "off the table," he repeated on the Today show, May 10. "Everything else is on the table." Mind you, only the day before Speaker Boehner swaggered on Fox that "Everything is on the table and everything should be on the table."

Apparently, the word "everything" comes with a qualifier to Republican leaders.

Just four days later, the GOP chose Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) to speak for the party and give their weekly address. "Everything should be on the table," she explained. "Everything, that is, except tax increases."

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Congress should raise taxes on the wealthy. Or shouldn't.

What I am saying is that when you declare "Everything is on the table" and "All of us must sacrifice" -- and the only thing you take off the table is raising taxes on the wealthy, then the only sacrifice you are actually asking for is from those who can least afford it. Cutting Medicare, Social Security, pensions, compensation benefits, and unemployment insurance only impact the middle and lower classes. The lone sacrifice you can ask of the wealthy, of corporations, of Wall Street investment houses and big banks is to have their taxes raised -- and Republicans took that off the table.

If you insist therefore that We All Must Sacrifice and that Everything is On the Table -- and the sole thing you won't do is raise taxes on the wealthy, then your lie is exposed.

It doesn't matter your "reason" why taxes shouldn't be raised. All things being cut have reasons why they shouldn't be. But "everything" means "everything." And "we all must sacrifice" means "all."

When you insist that "Nothing is off the table, except raising taxes," your goal can't be cutting the debt - since raising taxes would obviously cut the debt. What's clear is that you are protecting financial institutions. All at the expense of Middle America and the poor.

But ultimately, it's more than that, because something else is driving the conservative Republican bus.

And what conservatives most care about, and have cared about for decades, is not cutting the debt but getting rid of programs they hate. Making an issue of "cutting the debt" -- something we repeatedly see they have never cared about, nor do now -- is, rather, a way to get Social Security, Medicare, and social programs cut, unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps, low-income public housing assistance, NPR, PBS and more. That's what conservatives want cut. Not the debt. Republicans have never cared about the debt. And if you listen to what John Boehner and his fellow Republicans say, you hear them tell you.

And if they're not clear enough for you, then let Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) be blunt.

"We want to see real structural, cultural-type changes," he told The New York Times in April. "Game-changing kinds of changes."

That's what this is all about. Cultural changes. And he just told you.

If you think the calls for program cuts are about anything else to conservatives, you're wrong. Because they not only just told you -- they keep telling you. Over and over.