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Reality-based governing keeps getting in Republicans' way

The Joint Committee on Taxation told Republicans what they didn't want to hear about their tax plan -- so GOP lawmakers "opened an assault" on the office.
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 Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official scorekeeper on tax proposals, reviewed the Senate Republicans' tax plan and told GOP lawmakers what they didn't want to hear. According to the data, the Republican proposal wouldn't pay for itself, wouldn't create enormous economic growth, but would add over a $1 trillion to deficits over the next decade.

In theory, it was the kind of analysis that could've derailed the entire legislative initiative. That didn't happen, at least in part because Republicans "went on the offensive to discredit the agency performing the analysis." The New York Times reported late yesterday that GOP lawmakers "opened an assault" on Congress' own office so lawmakers would be more inclined to ignore the Joint Committee on Taxation's findings.

Public statements and messaging documents obtained by The New York Times show a concerted push by Republican lawmakers to discredit a nonpartisan agency they had long praised. Party leaders circulated two pages of "response points" that declared "the substance, timing and growth assumptions of J.C.T.'s 'dynamic' score are suspect." Among their arguments was that the joint committee was using "consistently wrong" growth models to assess the effect the tax cuts would have on hiring, wages and investment.The Republican response points go after revenue analyses by the committee and by the Congressional Budget Office, which scores other legislation, saying their findings "can be off to the tune of more than $1.5 trillion over ten years."The swift backlash helped defuse concerns about the deficit impact long enough for the bill to pass by a vote of 51 to 49..

It's worth emphasizing that Republicans didn't identify any specific flaws or mistakes in the Joint Committee on Taxation's analysis. GOP lawmakers simply decided to believe that the findings weren't reliable and understated the growth rates that Republicans expect to materialize, based on little more than their own hopes and evidence-free assumptions.

Making matters worse is the degree to which this is part of a larger pattern.

As regular readers know, Republicans, especially in the Trump era, have invested considerable amounts of time and energy is trying to discredit any entity that might undermine their ambitions with pesky facts. Before it was the Joint Committee on Taxation it was the Congressional Budget Office.

These same partisans would prefer if everyone was also skeptical of climate scientists, journalists, and health care professionals. Donald Trump would like to add intelligence agencies, pollsters, federal courts, and those who photograph inauguration events to the list.

I'm reminded of something Greg Sargent wrote back in March: "We're seeing a broad White House effort to corrode the very ideal of reality-based governing, something that includes not just a discrediting of institutions such as the CBO but also the weakening of the influence of science and data over agency decision-making and the deliberate misuse of our democracy's institutional processes to prop up Trump's lies about his popular support and political opponents."

Six months later, it's clear that the problem extends beyond the White House: Republican policymakers in general are targeting empiricism with unnerving vigor. Indeed, as the Russia scandal intensifies, even the legitimacy of the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are suddenly in doubt among die-hard partisans.

No good can come of this.