Albuquerque Journal

Desire to cut taxes overwhelms concerns about deficits

GOP budget hawks now outnumbere­d after party assailed debt for years


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 Reaganstyl­e 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.

“Voters, frankly, after these huge deficits, are saying, ‘Well, how much do deficits really matter?’” said former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a two-time presidenti­al candidate. “‘We’re not Greece yet, right?’”

Topping the immediate agenda 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 deficit increases — 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 middleinco­me 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 AP Newsmakers interview this past week. “That’s more important than anything else.”

“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’s been pumping the brakes on taxes, a stand that’s earned him face-toface meetings with both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump himself. Corker said he believes in some adjustment­s but he 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.

The unpopular leftover from the 2011 agreement are those spending limits, which if violated would be enforced by across-theboard spending cuts. Republican­s want to scrap them, at least for military money.

“There’s so much pressure on our side for additional defense spending,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Believe me there’s more defense hawks than budget hawks in the Republican conference right now.”

But it takes Democratic help to lift the limits and their price, unsurprisi­ngly, is more money for domestic programs.

That leaves GOP deficit hawks frustrated. They’ve won, for now, a $200 billion package of spending cuts as part of the House budget resolution, which has stalled after committee approval this summer. The Senate hasn’t acted yet, but no one in that chamber is taking the lead in pressing for a companion package of cuts.

Conservati­ves demanding that spending cuts accompany any extension of the government’s borrowing ability were undercut by Trump, who agreed last week to add temporary borrowing approval to a must-pass Harvey relief bill.

Anger over Trump’s debt bargain, though, has conservati­ves vowing that issues of spending and deficits won’t be kicked to the curb for long.

“It’s not going to be shoved aside much longer because this (debt limit) deal last week … has got people all riled up, and justifiabl­y so,” said GOP Rep. Joe Barton of Texas.

“We’ll be ready next time.”

 ??  ?? House Speaker Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan

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