Sen. Kirk Criticizes Unfunded Wars — But Not The Ones He Supported

August 02, 2011 10:52 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

As uncompromising conservatives brought the country to the brink of default, Republican leaders have tried to defend their obstinacy by claiming that the need to raise the debt ceiling resulted from reckless spending by President Obama. Yesterday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) put a new twist on the GOP's pathological inability to acknowledge the real drivers of our debt.

During an interview on Fox Business, host Neil Cavuto asked Kirk how the country came so close to defaulting on its obligations. Rather than commenting on the dysfunctional political process, Kirk opted to address the big picture, arguing that Republicans were trying to reverse 40 years of bad spending habits dating back to "when LBJ decided to run the Vietnam War without a tax increase."    

CAVUTO: How and why did it come to this brink and the credibility both sides have suffered in the interim?

KIRK: I think this was a 40-day, very tough battle that changed 40 years of overspending and borrowing. It may stretch back to when LBJ decided to run the Vietnam War without a tax increase, then exploding under both the Bush and Obama administrations with the catastrophic failure of stimulus. And so I think we need to make a change, but it's 40 years of culture we're changing just in 40 days here.


Now, it's true that unfunded wars have done significant damage to America's fiscal health, but Kirk is misidentifying the source of the current problem. In fact, while Johnson ultimately did raise taxes during Vietnam, President Bush initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq without paying for them. Kirk supported the unfunded wars along with the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, which combined to turn Clinton-era surpluses into the massive deficits and debt the last administration left behind.

Perhaps Kirk is rewriting history because he can't accept the obvious: Republican policies that he supported caused the debt to skyrocket. As for the issue Kirk ignored — how we reached the brink of default — that's obvious, too. The far right wanted to take the economy hostage in order to advance an agenda that could not pass under normal circumstances, and reputedly "moderate" Republicans like Kirk happily acceded to their demands. 

Considering that Kirk campaigned on "fiscal discipline" and his commitment to bipartisanship, it's no wonder that he is looking back 40 years instead of facing his own failure to live up to his promises.