GOP indifference to policy details makes tax debate impossible

The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

The Congressional Budget Office won't have time to complete a full macroeconomic analysis of the Republican tax plan before senators vote this week, but some of the preliminary findings are brutal. We learned late Sunday, for example, that the GOP proposal would punish the poor fairly quickly, and leave much of the American middle class worse off by the time the Republican plan is fully implemented.

Reporters yesterday asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the key architects of his party's package, for his reaction to the CBO officials' findings. "I don't think they're right," the Utah Republican said.

At this point, it's tempting to think the chair of the Finance Committee would present the press with a competing analysis or an explanation of where, from his perspective, the CBO went wrong. But Hatch didn't bother: he saw the Congressional Budget Office's report and simply decided not to believe it.

With this in mind, the New York Times' Binyamin Appelbaum raised an under-appreciated point yesterday.

"Republicans and Democrats have long touted opposing analyses of the economics of taxation. People could look and judge the difference. It cannot be overstated how radical it is for Republicans to simply refuse to present an analysis."

Quite right. This isn't necessarily a dispute between partisans relying on competing facts and figures. Rather, what we're watching is an argument in which one side has decided facts and figures aren't especially important.

Indeed, they're annoyances that only get in the way.

This has come up in a variety of ways. There's quite a bit of evidence, for example, that the Senate Republican plan would adversely affect charitable contributions by reducing tax incentives. GOP officials have responded to these concerns by pretending they don't exist. (Under normal circumstances, this sort of thing would be explored in committee hearings, giving non-profit leaders a chance to testify, but Republicans haven't held any such hearings.)

Similarly, state officials have raised alarm about the impact of the GOP plan on state budgets. Leaders throughout the educational system have shouted about the negative effects of the Republican legislation on students, teachers, and universities.

And in every instance, the response from GOP policymakers has been to keep their heads down, ignore the substantive criticisms, and accelerate their efforts before anyone else can get a good look at their proposal.

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum had a good piece overnight, explaining, "It doesn't matter that the economy is strong and doesn't need a tax cut. It doesn't matter that CBO hasn't had time to produce an official estimate of the bill. It doesn't matter that American corporations are already among the lowest-taxed in the world. It doesn't matter that the bill will have virtually no effect on growth. It doesn't matter that the rich have done so well over the past few decades that they hardly need another windfall. Republicans are just going to do it, and that's all there is to it."

There are all kinds of problems with this GOP posture, but it's important to appreciate the fact that Republicans are making a policy debate, in a rather literal sense, impossible. If they simply don't care what the data shows, what independent analyses say, and what stakeholders explain, then what is there for policymakers to even talk about? What's the point of a political debate among elected officials if one side doesn't care whether their arguments are true or false?