March 2, 2011- “We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more “broke” than a family with a mortgage or a college loan. And states have to balance their budgets. Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.
The federal deficit is too large for comfort, and most states are struggling to balance their books. Some of that is because of excessive spending, and much is because the recession has driven down tax revenues. But a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.
On Wednesday, to cite just the latest example, House Republicans successfully pressured the Senate to approve a bill cutting $4 billion in spending just to keep the federal government from shutting down for the next two weeks. In a matter of days, the Senate will be forced to take up the House bill to make more than $61 billion in ruinous cuts over the next seven months, all under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility.” (At least the White House says it will be involved in the next round.) Many Republican governors are employing the same tactic.