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The problem(s) with GOP demands to protect Trump-era tax breaks

As Republicans try to make Trump-era tax breaks permanent, remember: The GOP is pushing for smaller deficits while also pushing for larger deficits.


Republicans have tried to justify their debt ceiling crisis by arguing that they’re desperate to reduce the deficit. “We must move towards a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in prepared remarks last week.

The California Republican added that putting the nation “on a path towards a balanced budget is not only the right place to start, it’s the only place to start.” He went on to argue that the national debt is “the greatest threat to our future.”

The list of problems with his rhetoric — McCarthy has no actual plan; his party has no credibility; the already shrinking deficit isn’t an especially serious problem, etc. — isn’t short. But perhaps the most important detail in the larger conversation is that Republicans are pushing for smaller deficits while simultaneously pushing for larger deficits.

We saw some evidence of this last month, when the new House GOP majority, in their very first bill, voted to increase the deficit by $114 billion. This week, a prominent House Republican sent out this press release on a proposal that would increase the deficit by a far larger amount.

... Congressman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) announced he has joined Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and 71 colleagues in reintroducing the TCJA Permanency Act (H.R.976), legislation to make permanent the tax cuts for individuals and small businesses originally enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. Without Congressional action, 23 different provisions of the 2017 Republican tax law are set to expire after 2025.

As a substantive matter, these Republicans are right about the timeline. Donald Trump’s most notable legislative accomplishment — a massive package of tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations — was structured in such a way as to obscure its true cost. To that end, many of the tax cuts are set to disappear in the coming years, leaving elected policymakers with a choice: Either extend the breaks or watch them evaporate automatically, reverting to the status quo that existed before the regressive policy was signed into law.

The conservative proponents of the TCJA Permanency Act — which, as of this morning, has 76 co-sponsors, including members of the GOP leadership — have clearly made their choice, indifferent to the fact that the Trump-era tax breaks were largely ineffective and fell short of the promises Republicans made before they took effect.

But just as important in the context of the party’s debt ceiling fight is the simple fact that making these tax cuts permanent would cost a fortune. An analysis from the Tax Policy Center concluded that such a move would add $3 trillion to the deficit, and a related analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget came to a similar conclusion.

“The same Republicans who claim we can’t ‘afford’ to invest in affordable housing, better health care, and accessible child care aren’t blinking an eye at the fact their push to extend the Trump tax giveaways for the ultra wealthy would add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit,” Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania told me yesterday.

Boyle, the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, added, “Republicans will cut taxes for the mega-rich and well-connected while holding our economy hostage to force punishing cuts to programs American families rely on — that should tell you everything you need to know about Republicans’ priorities.”

GOP lawmakers have a choice: They can claim to take fiscal responsibility seriously and pursue a balanced budget, or they can push to make permanent ineffective tax breaks for those who don’t need them. To do both simultaneously is ridiculous.