In the hit TV series Game of Thrones the Machiavellian Lannister family takes great pain to accumulate power. Because of the relationship between credit and power, their family motto is: “Lannisters always pay their debts.” For much of American history federal leaders sought to balance budgets in order to preserve credit for true emergencies. Debt-financed peacetime military spending was viewed as being unsustainable and profligate borrowing was tantamount to disarmament.
After World War II Senator Robert Taft–the conservative “Mr. Republican”–opposed permanent military alliances such as NATO because he sought to lower tax rates. No mainstream leader in either party supported financing routine defense spending with debt, since excessive debt itself could endanger long run national security.
Today most Republicans support higher Pentagon spending than allowed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which limits outlays by sequestering all amounts above annual ceilings. Yet they also support lower tax revenues and a level of domestic spending–as set forth in this year’s House Budget resolution–that would absorb every dollar of existing tax revenues, before defense spending. Call it what you wish, but that policy is far from what was once called “fiscally conservative”