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EDITORIAL: Reid’s hypocritical concerns about the national debt

Harry Reid didn’t stop practicing his cynical brand of politics when he retired. That’s apparent every time he opines about the national debt.

“I hate to keep saying this but it is true: When I was first elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate and for several years after I was elected to the Senate, the No. 1 issue of the Republican Party was to lower the debt,” Mr. Reid said on a recent episode of “Nevada Newsmakers.”

This is true. A staple of Republican rhetoric has been to attack big government and the soaring debt. While some in the GOP have failed to follow through once comfortably ensconced in Washington, other Republican elected officials have risked their political careers to do something about it.

For instance, in 2005, then-President George W. Bush proposed reforming Social Security. Mr. Bush promised to preserve benefits for those 55 and older, but he wanted to give younger workers the ability to open private retirement accounts with a tiny portion of their Social Security contributions. Along with giving workers more control of their own money, Mr. Bush touted the plan as a way to reduce Social Security’s long-term deficits.

“By 2018, Social Security will owe more in annual benefits than the revenues it takes in, and when today’s young workers begin to retire in 2042, the system will be exhausted and bankrupt,” read a statement from the Bush White House. “As currently structured, Social Security cannot afford to pay promised benefits to young workers.”

Mr. Bush, however, ran into a formidable political opponent — the new Senate Democratic minority leader. His name was Harry Reid.

“We Democrats resolved not to deal, not to compromise, not to amend, but to kill the president’s plan to privatize Social Security in 2005,” Mr. Reid wrote in his memoir, “The Good Fight.”

Mr. Reid and his fellow Democrats succeeded. “It is hard to describe the feeling that came over me at this disaster averted,” he wrote.

That was hardly a one-time event. Throughout his career, Mr. Reid succeeded numerous times in passing large spending measures — Obamacare and the failed “stimulus” bill, for instance — while simultaneously demagoguing Republicans whenever they attempted to rein in spending. In the 1990s, Sen. Reid said he supported a balanced-budget amendment. But by 2010, he was actively involved in opposing such a proposal. Never mind that the Senate, under Majority Leader Reid, failed to even pass a spending plan in 2010, 2011 or 2012. And let’s not forget his sneers at members of the GOP who sought to rein in earmarks, the symbols of Washington profligacy and waste.

But now, Mr. Reid sees a new apocalypse on the horizon.

“But anymore, Republicans don’t seem to give a damn about what the debt is,” Mr. Reid said. “And, frankly, I don’t hear the Democrats raising much hell about it either, and I think that’s a mistake. I think the debt is not sustainable.”

Yes, it is a mistake. But it’s a politically understandable one. Democrats, such as Mr. Reid, have spent decades scoring points by dishonestly insisting that unsustainable entitlement programs, such as Social Security, don’t require modifications. Recall the cynical attack ads claiming Republicans who pushed Medicare reform sought literally to throw grandma out of her wheelchair and over the cliff. Meanwhile, Democrats have fought every effort to put the federal government on more secure financial footing by eliminating wasteful spending.

As a result, Republicans have — to their discredit — largely given up the fight as politically unwinnable until a crisis makes reforms unavoidable. The necessary reforms will now be more severe than they would have been if implemented decades ago.

Outside of the tea tasting board — look it up — Mr. Reid would be hard-pressed to identify a single federal spending initiative that he fought to eliminate or simply get under financial control during his more than three decades in Washington. If he seeks to cast blame for the nation’s rising debt, he should look in the mirror.

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