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Mitch McConnell on Rising Deficit: ‘It’s Not a Republican Problem'

Yuval Rosenberg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after the Republican weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The quotes: “It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem. It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

McConnell also called the failure to reform entitlements “the single biggest disappointment” of his time in Congress and said that, because of the popularity of the programs in question and the risk of a political backlash, entitlement reform likely has to come through bipartisan compromise. “I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” he said.

The context: McConnell’s comments, in an interview with Bloomberg, come a day after the Treasury Department said that the deficit grew to $779 billion in fiscal 2018, up 17 percent from the year before.

It’s true that, as the population ages, Medicare and Social Security are the main drivers of projected long-term U.S. debt, along with rising interest payments.

At the same time, budget watchers note that the GOP tax cuts passed last year are expanding the deficit rather than paying for themselves, as Republicans claimed they would. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said recently that legislation enacted in fiscal 2018, including tax cuts and spending increases, would add $445 billion to next year’s deficit — or 46 percent of the projected total.

Democrats argue that it’s unfair to single out safety-net programs for blame — and to put them on the chopping block — when repeated tax cuts and unfunded wars have contributed mightily to the debt over the last 20 years.

Democratic leaders seized on McConnell’s comments as evidence that Republicans were pursuing an agenda aimed at shrinking the government by starving it of revenue via tax cuts for the rich and then slashing safety-net programs for low- and middle-income Americans. “It's gaslighting for the GOP to blow a $2 trillion hole in the deficit to give the rich a tax cut then suggest cutting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid as the only fix for that new deficit,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted Tuesday.

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