Our Hypocrisy is Not Like Theirs, Part 15: The Deficit

Loyal readers of the Blog will have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in weeks. Honestly, in this day and age, I don’t really know what to say anymore. We are living in such an alternate reality at this moment in time, and there doesn’t seem to be much to say that hasn’t been said better by other commentators.

Even so, the Republican party’s latest efforts to ram a tax plan through Congress before Christmas, does deserve some comment.

As anybody who follows politics even vaguely knows, the Republicans have struck out several times this year in their promised effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’). They’ve now moved on to Tax ‘reform’ in an effort to prove that they can actually pass legislation, and thereby ‘govern.’  They are desperate to have at least one major legislative victory this year, so that they can tell their loyal base that they’ve actually accomplished something.

In order to hustle their tax plan through Congress in record time – the same thing they tried to do with their Affordable Care Act repeals – Congress has abandoned something known as ‘regular order.’  This is the normal process for how bills get enacted. They go to various committees and subcommittees. They have public hearings. The committee members get to proposed amendments. The bills get voted on in committee. Then they go successively through both branches, at which stage there are more opportunities for members to proposed amendments before the bills are ultimately engrossed and then enacted in each branch.

All of that has been abandoned, and with it has gone the Republican’s ability to ever object to a Democratic ‘abuse of process’ in the future.  The Republicans have proven, without a doubt, that they are only interested in the results, and not how they get there.

Contributing to this cynicism is also their abuse of the budget reconciliation process in the Senate, which is designed to avoid the power of the minority party to filibuster a budget.[1] So, in brief, the budget reconciliation process is one designed to make sure that budgets are able to pass, even in an era of high partisanship, and even when other bills can be blocked. That’s because if Congress cannot pass their budgets, then eventually the government will run out of money and not be able to function. So, once a bill is designated as a budget, special rules apply, including, in particular, that the bill cannot be filibustered.

The problem is that neither the Republican Tax proposals nor their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are budgets. They had elements of budgeting, enough to allow the Senate to fit the bills under the reconciliation rules, but only by stretching the rules.

Of course.

So onward to what’s happening now. In order to fasts-track their tax ‘reform’ project, the Republicans introduced tax bills simultaneously in the House and the Senate, so each branch could pass through their chambers before Thanksgiving.[2] (The Senate missed the deadline but will try again in this week.)

Now the Republicans have made two promises to sell their tax plan. The first was to simplify taxes so much that you’d be able to “file them on a post-card.”[3] That promise of simplification has already been abandoned. While the Republican tax plan eliminates certain deductions, it wouldn’t be anywhere close to postcard like simplicity. In fact, all indications are that our taxes would remain as complicated as ever before.

The second promise, of course, was tax relief for the middle class. And that ain’t happening either. What’s in the two tax bills is complicated, and it’s too complicated for this blog post. The Washington Post examined the House bill and the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institute examined the current Senate proposal, and you can link to the articles if you’re interested in the details.  Suffice it to say that these bills cut a lot of taxes for large corporations and the wealthy, but cut very little in taxes for the middle class. Most notably, the tax cuts for corporations are permanent, while those for the middle class are temporary, expiring in 2023 (House) and 2027 (Senate).[4]

Paul Krugman recently wrote an interesting article in which he posited that “many Republicans now see themselves and their party in such dire straits [as a consequence of the Trump election] that they’re no longer even trying to improve their future electoral position; instead, it’s all about grabbing as much for their big donors while they still can.” So, therefore, the corporate tax cuts.

But here’s the big hypocrisy: for years, while Obama (or before him Bill Clinton) was in office, the Republicans were furious about the deficit. We needed spending cuts, and drastic ones, they claimed, because the budget was out of balance. In fact, they were willing to shut down the government – more than once – so as not to have to raise the debt ceiling.

And now?

The Republican tax cut plan would add $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years, according to an estimate from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. I guess those deficits aren’t so important anymore.[5]

The Republicans are claiming, as they have in the past, that ‘economic growth’ will take care of those pesky deficits because the economy will grow at such an astounding rate that tax revenues from that increased activity will be enough to offset the decrease in rates.

Don’t you believe it.

That’s the same argument that Sam Brownback made in Kansas, and he almost bankrupted the Kansas economy. You would think that at least the good people of Kansas now know better.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the question of why ‘trickle down’ doesn’t work. (And it’s not that hard to understand.)

[1] I have been plenty critical of the Congress use of the filibuster in the past. But if they’re going to use it, then they should at least use it correctly and in the same way, regardless of whether the Democrats or Republicans have control of the Senate.

[2] The normal order of things is that a bill would be introduced in a chamber – either the House or Senate – and then pass through that chamber before being considered by the other chamber. But, you know, that takes more time.

[3] There are countries, such as Sweden, where this is actually possible. In those countries tax agency figures out what they think you owe, send you the information, and if you agree, you can check it off, and you’re done.  (If you disagree, the process would be longer, of course.)

[4] Those dates would be well after the 2020 elections, and that, of course, is no accident.

[5] Part of the idea is also that if Republicans can bring the budget substantially out of balance, then even when Democrats get back the levers of power, they won’t be able to do much because they will have to spend all their efforts on bringing the budget back in to balance.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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