Mark Kirk campaigned for the U.S. Senate as a self-proclaimed “deficit hawk,” boasting that he had opposed President Obama’s stimulus package and sponsored the Balanced Budget Amendment as a congressman.
In giving the weekly address for the Republican Party, Kirk rightly said that “our mounting debts pose a clear and present danger to our future. It’s time to cast aside our partisan differences and work across the aisle to solve this problem.”
But Kirk also campaigned on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. As it turns out, the new deal between President Obama and the Republicans, to continue those tax cuts while extending unemployment benefits for another year, is going to make the deficit bigger than ever.
“The package would cost about $900 billion over the next two years, to be financed entirely by adding to the national debt, at a time when both parties are professing a desire to begin addressing long-term fiscal imbalances,” The New York Times reported today.
Ideally, divided government produces balanced budgets because the Democrats stop Republicans from cutting taxes, and the Republicans stop Democrats from spending. That’s what happened during the last six years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. And that was one of the arguments for sending Kirk to Washington, to occupy the old Senate seat of the Democratic president.
But this deal does just the opposite, allowing both parties to indulge their most fiscally irresponsible qualities. The Republicans get more of the tax cuts that helped bring back deficits after the Clinton presidency. And the Democrats get $56 billion in unemployment insurance, which Kirk insisted the country couldn’t afford.
In his address, Kirk went on to list his personal platform for fiscal responsibility:
In the weeks ahead, Republicans and Democrats should enact bipartisan solutions to cut federal spending like a presidential line-item veto, a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and a new procedure to ensure spending reductions actually happen.
In the 1980s, President Reagan’s bipartisan Grace Commission set the standard for serious oversight by identifying federal spending that would add little to our nation's growth but much to its debt. Marrying a new Grace Commission with the authority to submit a proposal to Congress for a straight up or down vote would lead to actual spending reductions. This proposal is in my first Senate bill –- the Spending Control Act.
Those are all worthy ideas for reducing the deficit. Unfortunately, in his first big legislative battle as a senator, Kirk helped increase it.