Republicans say they want to save the country from Obama’s reckless spending. But as Paul Begala argues, it’s the GOP’s policies that have driven the nation into the ground. There it sits, lonely and forlorn on my shelf. A leather-bound copy of the 1999 Budget of the United States of America. A gift from President Clinton to the folks on his team, it was the first balanced budget in decades. But it wasn't supposed to be the last. Indeed, experts projected surpluses as far as the eye could see. $5.7 trillion in surpluses, to be exact. The surpluses were so strong that deep into the future—in 2009—the entire national debt was going to be zero. For the first time since Andy Jackson was president, the United States of America would not owe a dime. It didn't quite work out that way, did it? As Washington seems paralyzed, our economy stagnates, and America's full faith and credit is on the brink, it is useful to recall how we got here. This was not an act of nature. There was no unforeseen earthquake, no tsunami, no hurricane that wiped out our surplus. It was instead a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president who squandered the surplus. In full possession of the federal government for the first time since Eisenhower, the GOP—with, to be fair, some help from some very foolish Democrats—systematically dismantled the economic and fiscal policies that produced the strongest economy and largest budget surplus in our history. Specifically, they did four things: cut taxes (with a heavy tilt toward the rich), waged two wars on the national credit card (one of which was against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no serious threat to America), passed a prescription drug benefit with no pay-for (the first entitlement in American history without a revenue source), and deregulated Wall Street (which helped turn the American economy into a casino and touched off the Great Recession). I recap all that not to further depress you, Dear Reader. But it is striking how absent that history has been from the coverage of our current crisis. I can understand why the GOP doesn't want to remind folks of how they screwed the pooch. Indeed, they have a competing myth—that Washington went on a spending binge; radical young President Barack Obama went crazy with the national credit card. That, of course, is nonsense. But too few Democrats—and almost no media commentators—have countered the mendacious right-wing storyline. Speaker of the House John Boehner (left) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor listen during a news briefing after a House Republican conference meeting June 22, 2011, Alex Wong / Getty Images Just as bad as ignoring how we got here, we risk missing the story of precisely where the GOP wants to take us. In the coverage of the game (Will Boehner find the votes? Will the Tea Party really drive us off a cliff? Will Eric Cantor lead a revolt?) we sometimes neglect the substance of the proposals. Just what kind of country do the Republicans seek to build? Instead of seeing it as a bargaining chip, perhaps we should treat the GOP proposal as a serious governing document. What the GOP seeks is a banana republic: a toxic blend of right-wing populism, anti-intellectualism, debt defaults, and an end to the ladder of economic opportunity. Bob Greenstein, the widely respected president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has done just that. His conclusion: The Boehner-GOP plan is "tantamount to a form of ‘class warfare.’ If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history." More: Republicans on the Debt Ceiling: Screwing Over America - The Daily Beast It's nice to be reminded of who really caused this mess.