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The new model welfare Cadillac

We miss old fashioned conservatives. These are the kind that used to care about the federal deficit. Our nostalgia is inspired by Thursday’s debate between two Republican candidates in the Seventh District special election primary race, Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Northwoods state senator, and retired Army Capt. Jason Church, an Afghanistan war veteran and aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

In the debate, the candidates were asked what they would do about the federal deficit, which currently approaches $1 trillion a year, and the $22 trillion national debt. Both Church and Tiffany said they, as principled conservatives, opposed increasing the federal debt and deficits, but their answers were weak.

Tiffany said he supported President Trump’s plan to cut food stamps and pointed to how state Republicans under Gov. Scott Walker, including himself, erased a $3 billion state deficit. For his part, Church said he would target “waste, fraud and abuse” in Medicare to reduce the federal deficit.

These answers signalled a “conservative” outlook, but essentially told us that neither candidate would do anything meaningful to get control over ever-larger federal deficits.

Let’s look at what the candidates said. Tiffany said he would, like Trump, snip away at food stamps, but even if the senator were to call for the complete elimination of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) he would only cut the national’s deficit by a mere $68 billion. Likewise, for candidate Church. He said he would eliminate Medicare waste. That’s a plan of action, but, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Medicare “improper payments” total $50 billion annually. Again, this is not even a down payment on truly dealing with a $1 trillion annual deficit. What makes matters worse is that Church did not pledge to use these savings to reduce the deficit. He promised to spend the money on defense.

We think a crusty, old conservative would not be satisfied with these on the margin proposals. He (or she) would pound a table and start cussing.

This person would take the June 2019 Congressional Budget Office Long-Term, Budget Outlook report in hand and wave it around. Its findings are profound. The reports plots a federal debt that will rise from the current 78 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 144 percent by 2049. A graying America will cause this to happen. The percent of U.S. citizens over 65 will increase from 16 to 22 percent. Social Security and Medicare costs will increase. Interest on the debt will triple, becoming the largest category in federal non-entitlement spending.

The budget office outlines clearly what needs to happen to maintain deficits at 78 percent of GDP. The federal government will have to either raise taxes or cut spending by $400 billion a year.

We didn’t hear from either Republican candidate that they would support anything like this.

Instead, we heard something different: that they completely support a Trump-sanctioned $1 trillion annual deficit that virtually eliminates unemployment and sends the New York Stock Exchange into the stratosphere.

We heard something an old fashioned conservative would never agree to. That is, printing money to artificially boost the economy.

Both Church and Tiffany sought to reassure the mainly conservative crowd at Thursday’s debate by proclaiming their allegiance to capitalism and their profound disagreements with socialism. But, again, we took these statements as less than candid. That’s because the candidates seemed unconcerned the nation is on track to annually pay $1.2 trillion in federal debt interest payments to this country’s investor class not for any work they did, any risk they took or any product brought to market.

Our crusty, scowling conservative would see this as opposite of what capitalism is supposed to be.

He’d call this arrangement a new model welfare Cadillac. And he’d be right.