Anal­y­sis: GOPs tea party prom­ises dashed in tax cut em­brace

South Florida Times - - NATION - GOP cel­e­brat­ing bud­get vic­tory. By AN­DREW TAY­LOR As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON (AP) – The tea party class of 2010 vowed to usher in a new era for the Repub­li­can Party, one where con­ser­va­tives clam­or­ing for fis­cal dis­ci­pline would roll back gov­ern­ment spend­ing to rein in tril­lion-plus bud­get deficits. Not any­more.

Repub­li­cans are re­turn­ing to their Ron­ald Rea­gan-era roots – tax cuts first, fol­lowed by vague prom­ises of cut­ting spend­ing down the road. Con­cerns about grow­ing bud­get deficits have been shelved as Repub­li­cans con­trol­ling Wash­ing­ton fo­cus in­stead on de­liv­er­ing tax breaks along with spend­ing in­creases for the mil­i­tary.

GOP lead­ers in­sist they haven’t aban­doned their de­sire to con­front tril­lion-dol­lar deficits. Look­ing to­ward 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan has raised the prospect of tack­ling run­away ben­e­fit pro­grams – with the spike in the deficit caused by the tax over­haul al­ready be­ing used to jus­tify a po­ten­tial round of aus­ter­ity next year.

That would re­quire political courage that’s rare in an elec­tion year in which Repub­li­cans face the prospect of daunt­ing losses.

If his­tory re­peats, the spend­ing cuts won’t be re­al­ized. Rea­gan’s as­sault on the bu­reau­cracy sput­tered. Repub­li­cans in Congress haven’t made a se­ri­ous run at cut­ting spend­ing since a failed 2011 bud­get deal de­liv­ered au­to­matic cuts known as se­ques­tra­tion to Wash­ing­ton. Those, too, have un­rav­eled.

And whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tax cuts prove to be durable re­mains to be seen. Rea­gan’s 1981 tax cut was pared back sev­eral times. Three of the fol­low­ing four pres­i­dents – Ge­orge H.W. Bush, Bill Clin­ton and Barack Obama – signed tax in­creases into law.

For now, the clear win­ners are the in­di­vid­u­als soon to pocket tax cuts, along with cor­po­ra­tions and busi­nesses that stand to reap a wind­fall. The po­ten­tial losers are the peo­ple who rely on the so­cial safety net. But if Repub­li­cans fail, again, in their prom­ises to wres­tle the bud­get un­der con­trol, the joke will be on the tea party base that thought it was vot­ing for fis­cal con­ser­vatism.

The bud­get deficit, which reg­is­tered $666 bil­lion in the 2017 bud­get year, is set to soar even higher, fu­eled by the tax cuts, a dis­as­ter relief to­tal set to breach $130 bil­lion, and long-promised, record bud­get in­creases for the mil­i­tary. Tril­lion-dol­lar deficits loom be­fore the end of Trump’s term, which has Repub­li­cans al­ready plan­ning a pivot to long-promised curbs on gov­ern­ment ben­e­fit pro­grams such as food stamps, Med­i­caid and Medi­care.

“There is no way out,” Rep. Mark San­ford, R-S.C., a mem­ber of the party’s deficithawk wing, said Tues­day.“The tax bill is in essence the nail in the cof­fin on driv­ing the ab­so­lute math­e­mat­i­cal ne­ces­sity of re­form to en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams. You can't have both.”

Ryan said in an in­ter­view Tues­day that “even if we get the kind of growth we hope to get (from tax cuts), you still have to re­form en­ti­tle­ments if you’re go­ing to get this debt un­der con­trol. You can­not grow your way out of the en­ti­tle­ment prob­lem we have com­ing.”

It bears not­ing that Repub­li­cans have promised spend­ing cuts for years. The tri­umphant 2010 tea party class of GOP law­mak­ers who seized con­trol of the House ran on fis­cal dis­ci­pline, and their de­mands for aus­ter­ity brought the na­tion to the brink of de­fault in the sum­mer of 2011.

But the 2011 bud­get deal that de­liv­ered much-ma­ligned au­to­matic cuts to an­nual spend­ing for agen­cies is un­rav­el­ing, and con­tro­ver­sial, long-promised curbs to the rapid growth of Medi­care haven’t ever left the plan­ning stages. Cuts in do­mes­tic pro­grams such as food stamps or hous­ing just won’t make a math­e­mat­i­cal dent in the $20 tril­lion debt that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will bear.

Next year, the ar­rival of Doug Jones, DAla., will cut the Se­nate GOP ad­van­tage to just 51-49. The re­cent track record of Congress mak­ing dif­fi­cult bud­get choices in elec­tion years doesn’t in­spire con­fi­dence. And any po­ten­tial sav­ings from so-called wel­fare re­form are dwarfed by the $1.5 tril­lion or more deficit tag for the tax mea­sure.

“Once you cut taxes, it’s real hard to turn around and tell peo­ple you have to cut spend­ing for fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Brian Riedl, a se­nior fel­low at the con­ser­va­tive Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute. “En­ti­tle­ment re­form was hard be­fore the tax cuts; it'll be nearly im­pos­si­ble af­ter.”

In pass­ing the tax bill and then promis­ing spend­ing cuts later, Repub­li­cans are at­tack­ing the GOP pol­icy menu like their pre­de­ces­sors – dessert first, veg­eta­bles later.

It’s a re­play of the ex­pe­ri­ence un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, who pow­ered through tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and the cre­ation of a Medi­care pre­scrip­tion drug ben­e­fit in 2003 as well. But when the agenda turned to cut­ting spend­ing, par­tic­u­larly a 2005 bid to shore up So­cial Se­cu­rity, Bush flopped badly, while the tor­tured leg­isla­tive path later that year to en­act mod­est spend­ing cuts of $40 bil­lion over five years proved al­most com­i­cally dif­fi­cult.

In the 2006 midterms, the GOP pres­i­dent and Repub­li­cans lost con­trol of the House and Se­nate.


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