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Republicans' fiscal hypocrisy is fully on display in the tax bill

The GOP can't claim to care about budget deficits when they create them every time they have power.

by Neera Tanden /
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other congressional Republicans listen.Alex Wong / Getty Images file
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With the Republicans in the Senate now set to vote in favor of their shameful tax cut legislation, consider the staggering hypocrisy contained in the bill: For decades, the GOP has branded itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. Yet their tax plan promises to add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years; Republican leaders and rank and file members no longer seem to care about deficits.

Many in the Republican Party are now rejecting the idea that they must exhibit responsibility in leading our government and are instead embracing a reckless agenda which threatens America’s long-term economic security and budget priorities. On top of that, they’re assuming that Democrats will eventually help them clean up the damage they will cause to our budget and our economy.

But if the GOP wants to pursue these disastrous policies, they’ll have to stand alone on the dance floor once the music stops playing.

The current tax debate should settle once and for all whether self-styled fiscal hawks will decide to put their party allegiance before their principles.

We’ve seen Republicans pull this before: During Bill Clinton’s first year as president, for instance, Democrats enacted a major deficit reduction package without any support from conservatives. And while many Democrats in Congress lost their jobs as a result, their leadership helped produce a budget surplus several later.

When George W. Bush became president, Republicans authorized a series of massive tax cuts that ballooned the federal deficit and worsened income equality, and passed a prescription drug bill despite the fact that it carried a $400 billion price tag for which no one paid. These measures — combined with the administration’s continued spending on wars — helped squander the budget surplus produced under Clinton.

Barack Obama came into office in the midst of an economic crisis and yet, shortly into his first term, Republicans suddenly rediscovered the urgent need for deficit reduction. In December 2009, John Boehner decried on the House floor that “America is broke”. And the following year, I participated in a panel with Paul Ryan during which the congressman warned that our country faced a “forthcoming debt crisis” driven by leaders who lacked the political will to fix it.

But now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House, their leaders have thrown themselves behind tax plans that would run up huge deficits in order to finance handouts to large corporations and the super-rich.

More than 60 percent of the tax breaks found in the Senate plan would eventually wind up in the pockets of the one percent. And by 2027, the average household in the top 1 percent would receive $32,510 under their bill, while 87 million working- and middle-class families would actually see an increase in their taxes.

How do Senate Republicans plan on paying for these giant giveaways to the wealthy?

If Republicans do enact their radical agenda, Democrats should not be expected to bail them out.

They’re hoping to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which would leave 13 million more people without insurance. And don’t be fooled by their empty promises to stabilize health care markets in return by including bipartisan reforms introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). These reforms won’t fix the health care mess created by the Republican tax bill, and Republicans would need Democratic votes in the House to overcome the opposition within their own party anyway — and there’s no guarantee that such support will materialize.

The Senate tax bill would also trigger $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare in 2018 alone unless they find enough Democrats to help them waive the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act — again, trying to force Democrats to help fix a crisis created by a bill to which they are opposed.

Finally, Republicans had the gall to make a permanent reduction in the corporate tax rate, while scheduling every cut meant for individual taxpayers to expire by 2025. After that point, taxes would go up for every family in America, unless Democrats vote to extend the individual cuts that they plan to oppose this week.

The current tax debate should settle once and for all whether self-styled fiscal hawks, such as Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Flake (R-Ariz.), McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lankford (R-Okla.), will decide to put their party allegiance before their principles. True conservatives would not be concerned about deficits when liberals are in power, but then ignore them entirely when the Republican party wants to prioritize tax cuts for the rich.

And if Republicans do enact their radical agenda, Democrats should not be expected to bail them out in a few years or hold themselves to a higher standard on deficits once they’re back in control.

If the GOP passes these deficit-financed tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, those conservatives supposedly concerned with fiscal responsibility shouldn’t be surprised (let alone wail in opposition) if, down the road, Democrats turn to deficit-financed investments that would support the working families that Republicans left high and dry in giving tax cuts to their donor class.

Neera Tanden is the CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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