A po­lit­i­cal show of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity

House Repub­li­cans clamor to drive the na­tion still deeper into debt.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

“AFOOLISH con­sis­tency is the hob­gob­lin of lit­tle minds,” Ralph Waldo Emer­son fa­mously wrote. And, as if to prove his point, the Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee has just voted to make per­ma­nent ma­jor in­di­vid­ual in­come and es­tate tax cuts that were en­acted in 2017, but sched­uled to ex­pire in 2025. This cer­tainly will elim­i­nate an ap­par­ent in­con­sis­tency in the tax law — it cut taxes per­ma­nently for busi­nesses, but only tem­po­rar­ily for house­holds.

The price tag, how­ever, will be $631 bil­lion in ad­di­tional fed­eral debt over the next decade, ac­cord­ing to the Tax Pol­icy Cen­ter, a joint project of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and the Ur­ban In­sti­tute. That’s a bit mis­lead­ing, how­ever, since all the im­pact would oc­cur in the years 2026 through 2028. In the decade af­ter 2028, the mea­sure would add an­other $3.2 tril­lion to the debt, the Cen­ter es­ti­mates.

The 2017 tax law was in­deed a mass of con­tra­dic­tions, of which the con­trast be­tween per­ma­nent cuts for cor­po­ra­tions and tem­po­rary cuts for in­di­vid­u­als was only one. That in­con­sis­tency, in turn, was the nec­es­sary con­se­quence of a more fun­da­men­tal vi­o­la­tion of prin­ci­ple: namely, the Repub­li­cans’ un­will­ing­ness to off­set the tax cuts with spend­ing re­duc­tions, in bla­tant con­tra­dic­tion of their pro­fessed aver­sion to in­creas­ing the na­tional debt. Mak­ing the in­di­vid­ual cuts tem­po­rary was a gim­mick to make the un­paid-for pack­age com­pat­i­ble — on pa­per — with con­gres­sional bud­get rules. Oth­er­wise, it could not have passed with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate.

All along, this was un­der­stood to be a phony ex­er­cise — that, like tem­po­rary pro­vi­sions in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion tax cuts be­fore them, th­ese too, would even­tu­ally be made per­ma­nent by a later Congress. The Ways and Means Com­mit­tee’s vote is the first step in that process; pas­sage in the ma­jor­ity-GOP full House is ex­pected later this month. There is lit­tle or no chance the Se­nate will even take the mat­ter up this year, much less that it could muster the 60 votes that would, in this case, be nec­es­sary for pas­sage. That is of sec­ondary im­por­tance to House Repub­li­cans, who are ba­si­cally just stag­ing a po­lit­i­cal show for the party’s base in ad­vance of Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions.

Sym­bolic or not, the law puts the Repub­li­cans on record in fa­vor of a mea­sure that would be fis­cally ir­re­spon­si­ble, and would dis­pro­por­tion­ately ben­e­fit up­per-in­come tax­pay­ers. What Congress ac­tu­ally needs to do, long be­fore 2025, is to put in place new tax mea­sures that ac­tu­ally help de­crease the na­tional debt, or at least pre­vent it from in­creas­ing. That is the only pol­icy con­sis­tent with the na­tional in­ter­est.

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