The process that has brought congressional Republicans to the brink of passing tax “reform” has been nothing short of shameful.
With Congress apparently having reconciled bills that separately passed the House and the Senate, the plan is to pass the legislation this week and send it to President Donald Trump. If that plays out as expected — and nothing is certain in Washington, D.C. — it will reflect gross legislative malpractice. In short, Congress might be about to sell the American people a bill of goods that has undergone little scrutiny.
To begin with, the Trump administration and supporters have frequently claimed that tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals will pay for themselves through increased economic activity. This is a fallacy of the highest order, one that has been a Republican trope since the Reagan years and bears no resemblance to reality. Estimates from the Tax Policy Center, the Tax Foundation, the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and the Joint Committee on Taxation all dispute the administration’s conclusions about the benefits of a tax cut.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, repeated the falsehood about tax cuts paying for themselves in explaining her vote in favor of the House version of the tax bill. If Herrera Beutler insists on voting in favor of the final version of the plan, we encourage her to at least come up with a more plausible explanation this time around.
In providing large tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals while providing mild relief for the middle class, the Republican tax plan is expected to increase the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the course of a decade. The invoice for the tax cuts will be passed along to future generations while moving the United States closer to a debt level that is unsustainable and will hamper the economy for generations.
This isn’t a matter of deficit spending in response to a severe recession, which is what happened during the Obama presidency; it is a matter of ignoring a moral duty to begin paying down the debt when times are good (something that Obama should have started toward the end of his time in office).
While the tax plan itself is difficult to justify, the process that has created it is indefensible. For example, the Senate bill was passed at 2 a.m. Eastern time on a Saturday, with changes being hastily written in the margins. Rather than hold public hearings and debate the pros and cons of different provisions, congressional leaders are intent upon simply doing something instead of doing it well. This, to borrow a phrase, is no way to run a railroad.
Republicans will point to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 as an example of one party pushing through legislation — a comparison that upon examination points out their incompetence. The Affordable Care Act underwent more than a year of debate plus public hearings with insurance companies, health care providers, and other stakeholders. While no Republicans ended up voting in favor of the legislation, in the end it included hundreds of amendments — many championed by Republicans.
Such is not the case with the tax plan, which is the result of stealth backroom deals, minimal oversight, and old-fashioned horse trading out of public view.
Along the way, Republicans in Congress have diminished the public’s confidence in the party’s ability to govern. At a time when our democracy is being increasingly destabilized, pushing through an unpopular plan born of legislative negligence is nothing short of shameful.