Jake Tapper has gone rogue since moving to CNN. He busted the Benghazi email lies this summer and today his interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney was aired, in which he challenged Cheney on his “deficits don’t matter” comment.
Cheney told former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that “(Ronald) Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Tapper wondered how Cheney squared that with deficit concerns now. Cheney responded to Tapper’s question by saying that the Bush administration was running surpluses at the time. From CNN:
Cheney said at the time he made that comment about the former President, the administration was running surpluses, and they were trying to determine whether they could – like Reagan – run a deficit in order to build up military capability.
“I’m not opposed, under certain circumstances, to running deficits,” said Cheney.
“The debt is another problem. And we’ve gotten to the point now, where especially because of entitlement programs, but because there really hasn’t been much done by way of trying to restrain spending, when we have, you know, trillion-dollar deficits every year,” said Cheney.
Hmmm. That’s a lot of not true. Tapper stepped up with some reality. He pointed out that economists look at the data and in addition to “entitlements”, they blame things that happened under Bush and Cheney for the deficit, “such as funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and tax cuts.”
Cheney pooh-poohed that away because you see, it was necessary for our security (remember the days when anything was justified by invoking “security” but these days Republicans defund Libya and then investigate when it goes wrong). Cheney said, “In terms of what we had to spend with respect to the aftermath of 9/11, setting up security systems, TSA, Homeland Security and so forth, we thought that was a necessary and legitimate expense. We did it because we believed it was important to do and, still do.”
Or, “deficits don’t matter”? Yes. That’s what he’s trying to say.
Cheney won’t take responsibility for the unfunded Medicare Part D – he dumped that on Bush, and why shouldn’t we believe that Dick Cheney wanted nothing to do with Medicare Part D. It helped people and as such is an “entitlement” program.
“But how were the programs paid for?” CNN wondered.
Cheney hemmed and hawed his away around but the bottom line is it was not paid for. He claimed they tried to pay for it but mean people would not let them take away Social Security, so, “We were totally unsuccessful,” Cheney admitted to Tapper.
Oh, a speck of truth. Cherish this moment people because it didn’t last long. Cheney also claimed that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars “were paid for. The funds were appropriated.”
David Leonhardt of the New York Times disagrees:
He started a very expensive war in Iraq, and even apart from the debate about whether that war was a good idea, he clearly didn’t pay for the war. He didn’t even put it in his budget in the main way they budgeted, so he didn’t really even pretend to pay for it.
“And the combination of the tax cuts, the war in Iraq, Medicare Part D and some other things meant that he essentially did not run the government as if it needed to make its payments over the long term. He ran it as if it was fine to have a huge deficit.”
Clive Cook of the Financial Times (via PBS) added, “But it had huge implications for deficits. Any fiscally responsible administration would’ve attended to that. And if you were going to cut taxes as much as they did, at the very least you would’ve tried very hard to squeeze down on the spending side, so the deficit didn’t run out of control. And they failed to do that.”
Paul O’Neill, the Secretary of the Treasury for two years under Bush, recalled via PBS that he tried to warn Bush but Bush wouldn’t even respond. When he told Dick Cheney, Cheney gave him the Reagan proved deficits don’t matter line and O’Neil was stunned.
How about the vice president? Did you talk to the vice president about this?
I did. Well, he told me, as [Ron] Suskind famously reported in the book he did about me, [The Price of Loyalty], the vice president said to me, maybe in November 2002, “Ronald Reagan proved budget deficits don’t matter.”
He said that to you?
Absolutely. Sat right next to me in the Roosevelt Room. I’ll never forget because I was so stunned that anybody could believe that Ronald Reagan proved that budget deficits don’t matter.
The truth is that Bush cut taxes for the rich and increased spending tremendously. Dick Cheney knew what they were doing and they didn’t care. They ran up the tab like drunken frat boys with daddy’s credit card. In fact, “Bush was the only American president to fail to increase taxes to pay for a foreign war launched on his watch.” No problem, because they just stuck Obama with the bill and then spent the next five years concern trolling the deficit they created and blaming Obama for it.
Estimates come in at $3.7 trillion and counting for the wars, when factoring in the long-term costs of caring for the wounded and the families of those killed. Some estimates are as high as $4.4 trillion.
The truth is that the Republican administration was wildly irresponsible and Barack Obama has taken on one of the key factors in the deficit by addressing skyrocketing healthcare costs with ObamaCare. Naturally Republicans want to kill ObamaCare now.
Yet, Republicans refuse to advance any legislation forward in government, constantly citing their reverence for the deficit, which they just recently discovered in January of 2009 when Barack Obama took office.
Tapper busted Cheney on the glaringly obvious double standard regarding deficits. Too bad this sort of thing didn’t go on during the Bush administration but it’s still important to note.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.