The straw man
Yglesias definitively states:
There have been two presidents who were part of the modern conservative
movement, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, and they both presided over massive
increases in both present and projected deficits.
While I was just learning how to read when Ronald Reagan made his exit from the White House, I can tell you that George W Bush, while a self-proclaimed conservative, was rarely, if ever, claimed by fiscal conservatives as one of their own. Many, if not all of his non-military spending programs were roundly opposed by conservatives in Congress and academia. In fact, many fiscally responsible measures proposed by conservative members of Congress were dead on arrival at the Bush White House. To list him as representative of the "conservative movement" would not be very accurate and serves only to make Yglesias argument more convincing with little attention to facts. In truth, what Yglesias and any other intelligent person should glean from the Bush presidency is that conservatives oppose fiscal irresponsibility from either party, not just their opponents.
The major deficit reduction packages of the modern era, in 1990 and 1993, were
both uniformly opposed by the conservative movement.
While Yglesias provides zero support or clarification of this statement, I am assuming by "conservative movement" he is referring to Republicans in Congress only. I don't think its any stretch to say that "conservatives" and "Republicans" often disagree on matters of policy. One need only visit RedState.com or listen to Erick Erickson to know that. But more importantly, Yglesias seems to be saying that if you opposed these two deficit reduction packages you must be opposed to deficit reduction in any way. This is not the only reasonable alternative. No person will support something at any costs - what is in the package matters. For instance, no deficit hawk proposes the dismantling of the military to bring spending under control, just as liberals would oppose raising tax rates to 100% of income, even though it would help to fund their expansive government programs. There are breaking points and context matters. Yglesias does not acknowledge this.
Yglesias' third and fourth points are in regard to taxes. Yglesias says:
When the deficit was temporarily eliminated in the late-1990's, the mainstream
conservative view was that this showed that the deficit was too low and needed
to be increased via large tax cuts.
Here, his conclusion has become his premise. Since conservatives don't care about the deficit, their motive in supporting tax cuts must have been that the deficit was too low and needed to be increased. Clearly, mine is not a thorougly researched blog post, but unless he has supporting quotes or articles with conservatives making statements to that effect, I cannot concede this point. When the government budget forecast a SURPLUS, conservatives thoughtfully believed that, if the government has extra money laying around, perhaps it is best to return it to the people. Incidentally, it is a well established economic fact that reductions in tax rates do not automatically equal reductions in government revenues, and Yglesias knows that. Once again, he presents only the portion of the facts that make his conclusion seem obvious. The fact is, his conclusion is far from obvious and things are rarely as simple as he presents them.
Yglesias uses Republican presidents when it suits him, then Republican members of Congress when more convenient. Who is it that controls government spending? He ignores the fact that it was a Republican Congress that balanced the budget in the mid-1990's, alongside a Democratic president. I'll have to check my copy of the Constitution but I believe Article I gives Congress the power of the purse.
All of this being said, I do agree that Republicans have done a poor job of supporting deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility over the past decade. I am queasy over neo-conservative support of expansive military operations without fiscal restraint. If he wants to focus his ire on Republicans, I believe that would be responsible and better supported by fact. When it comes to conservatives, it would be more accurate to say that conservatives are most concerned with responsible government spending and keeping taxes as low as possible. It is difficult to argue that a group who cares about revenues and expenses does not care about the bottom line. Such measures are directly correlated. To claim that conservatives uniformly "do not care about the deficit" is like saying a business owner that cares about his prices and watches his expenses does not care about his profits or losses. I think that is a hard case to make and diminishes what I think is an important and valuable discussion.