I wasn't surprised because a) Cruz said the same to me on Monday in Houston, and b) although I often hear Democrats say that Republicans are obsessed with austerity, I really don't see them framing things that way, at least in Texas, for reasons I discussed in May. (Actually, I was slightly surprised on Monday, but only because it was seriously the first time I can remember hearing a Texas Republican spontaneously bring up "austerity". It's just not part of the debate here.)
In case anyone's interested, though, here's the relevant excerpt from the interview Monday. The way this came about is that I had observed to Cruz that although he's a fiscal conservative and a social conservative, he seems to me to focus on fiscal issues or constitutional concerns more than social issues.
"The existential threat facing this country right now is fiscal and economic," he said, by way of response.
"Do you think there is an existential threat?" I asked.
Yes. We are bankrupting this nation. In five years under President Obama, we have seen our national debt go from ten trillion dollars to seventeen trillion dollars. It’s larger than the size of our economy. If we keep going down this road, there’s a point of no return. The most common thing I hear from Texans all over this state, men and women who grab my shoulder, they say: 'I’m afraid for this country. I’m afraid for my kids. I’m afraid for my grandkids. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.'
And I don’t think we have a long window to turn it around. I don’t think it’s decades. It is why these fights are so critical. And the piece that is often missed is economic growth. It’s why I’ve said from day one that my top priority in all this is restoring economic growth. The last four years, the economy has grown, on average, 0.9% a year. Without growth, we can’t meet any of our core priorities. We can’t tackle unemployment, debt, the deficit. We can’t maintain our military strength. All of those problems are insoluble without economic growth.
Look, I think Republicans get their priorities wrong at times by focusing too much on austerity. As much as spending is out of control, given the choice between spending cuts and economic growth, I choose growth one hundred out of one hundred times. Why? Because if you look at the overall numbers, growth is the only first-order variable. Growth impacts the solvency of Social Security, the ability of Medicare to remain strong, our ability to tackle the deficit and the debt, far more than nominal spending cuts.
I’ll give a perfect example in Washington, DC. A significant number of Republicans are fixated on preserving the sequestration cuts, which were 2.4% of the overall budget. Now, look, I welcome any cut reining in our out-of-control spending. That’s a positive thing. But if you were to put on the table, what would be the benefits to this country of a) preserving a 2.4% spending cut or b) stopping Obamacare, which is destroying economic growth and hurting people all across the country--in my view, that comparison isn’t even close.
The reason the Obamacare fight matters so much is it goes directly to growth. It is hammering, in particular, small businesses--small businesses generate two-thirds of all new jobs, and it is small businesses that aren’t growing. The giant corporations don’t care; they do fine with Obamacare. It’s not about the giant corporations; it’s about the little guy. It’s about the small entrepreneur who right now, because of Obamacare, isn’t hiring, is laying people off, is pushing people into part-time work. And all the people who are getting hammered by that are the most vulnerable in our economy: young people, Hispanics and African-Americans and single moms--they’re the people who are struggling. Bringing back economic growth is infinitely more important than skirmishes over spending in Washington, because economic growth, the impact of economic growth, dwarfs everything else.
If you look at Ronald Reagan, there’s only one other four-year period post-World War II, four consecutive years of less than one percent growth. 1979 to 1982. Coming out of the Carter administration. Same failed economic policies--out-of-control spending, taxes, regulation--produced the exact same stagnation. What did Reagan do when he came in? Pursued policies the exact opposite of those pursued by President Obama. So: reduce taxes. Dramatically simplify the tax code. Reined in the out of control regulations coming out of Washington. And created an environment in which small businesses could prosper and thrive. Just like President Obama, Ronald Reagan inherited a lousy economy that was hurting. But by the fourth year of Reagan’s presidency, 1984, our economy was growing 7.2%.
If President Obama, inheriting the same lousy economy Reagan had, had implemented the same economic policies Reagan did, and if the same economic growth had resulted, by today, there would be over seven million new jobs in this country. That is the equivalent of taking every single person currently unemployed in 46 of the 50 states and having a new job for all of them. That is game-changing. And you look at everything else--the debt and the deficit, seven million new jobs, seven million new people paying taxes, seven million people not on public assistance because they’re providing for their kids, seven million or more people whose kids are now better off because their parents are providing for them, are able to go to better schools, to be better fed or have better health care.
That difference dramatically dwarfs everything else, and that’s what we ought to be focusing on. Economic growth, both to strengthen the future of the country but also, in particular, to help those who are struggling. You know, I just read a statistic that the top 1% in this country now have the highest share of our income since 1928, under President Obama. The rich do fine with government control of the economy. It’s not about them. It’s about everybody else. And when you hammer small businesses, that’s who gets hurt, is everybody else.