Tax cuts quiet GOP calls for fiscal discipline
Republican lawmakers wanted to slash spending under Obama
WASHINGTON - Republicans spooked world markets in their ardor to cut spending when Democrat Barack Obama was in the White House. Now, with Republican President Donald Trump pressing for politically popular tax cuts and billions more for the military, few in the GOP are complaining about the nation’s soaring debt.
The tea party members and other conservatives who seized control of the House in 2010 have morphed into Ronald Reagan-style supply-siders while the GOP’s numerous Pentagon pals run roughshod over the few holdouts.
Tax cuts in the works could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt while bipartisan pressure for more money for defense, infrastructure and domestic agencies could mean almost $100 billion in additional spending next year alone.
The bottom line: The $20 trillion national debt promises to spiral ever higher with Republicans controlling both Congress and the White House.
“Republicans gave up on caring about deficits long ago,” bemoaned Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was elected in the 2010 tea party class.
It’s a far cry from the Newt Gingrich-led GOP revolution that stormed Washington two decades ago with a mandate to balance the budget and cut taxes at the same time. Or even from Republicans of 2001, who enthusiastically cut taxes under President George W. Bush, but only at a moment when the government was flush with money.
Now, deficits are back with a vengeance. Medicare and Social Security are drawing closer to insolvency. Fiscal hawks and watchdogs like the Congressional Budget Office warn that the debt is eventually going to drag the economy down.
But like Obama and Bush before him, Trump isn’t talking about deficits. Neither much are voters.
Topping the immediate agenda, however, is a debt-financed drive to overhaul the tax system.
Top Capitol Hill Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had promised for months that a tax overhaul would not add to the deficit, with rate cuts financed by closing loopholes and other steps.
Instead, Republicans are talking about tax cuts whose costs to the debt — still under negotiation — would be justified by assumptions of greater economic growth.
“We want pro-growth tax reform that will get the economy going, that will get people back to work, that will give middle-income taxpayers a tax cut and that will put American businesses in a better competitive playing field so that we keep American businesses in America,” Ryan said in an interview this past week. “That’s more important than anything else.”
He backed off months of promises that the Republicans’ tax plan won’t add to the nation’s ballooning deficit.
The GOP moves could justify $800 billion or so in tax cuts over 10 years, but the administration is pressing behind the scenes to push the envelope well beyond that range.
“They’re starting to talk about tax cuts instead of tax reform,” said former Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. “When people are desperate to find legislation that they can pass, they tend to take the easy path.”
Among the few deficit hawk holdouts is Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a key vote on the Senate Budget Committee, who has been pumping the brakes on taxes, a stand that has earned him face-to-face meetings with both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump himself.
Corker says he believes in some adjustments but doesn’t want to “let this just be party time that just takes us no place but massive deficits down the road.”
Trump’s election has GOP military hawks pressing to shovel enormous amounts of money into the Pentagon — about $90 billion over the stringent spending limits set by the hard-won 2011 deficit control effort. Republican demands for spending cuts as the price of lifting the government’s debt limit and averting a market-rattling default on U.S. obligations pushed negotiations perilously close to a market crisis that summer.