Republicans want a tax cut, but they don’t want to fully pay for it and may be willing to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. This would continue a troubling cycle, economist Jared Bernstein writes, in which supposed fiscal conservatives “use the deficit argument to block spending, promote fiscal austerity, and small government, conveniently tossing deficit concerns aside when it comes to tax cuts.”
You’ll hear arguments about how increased economic growth will make up for the budgetary effects of the tax cuts, but don’t believe them. “Our fiscal history on this point is clear: Cutting taxes loses revenues, which, unless offset by higher taxes elsewhere or spending cuts, increases the budget deficit, which in turn raises the debt.” When this happens again, and the promised growth effects don’t materialize, the tax cutters will go back to pushing for spending cuts.
The country faces a number of serious challenges, including an aging population that by itself will require increased government spending, and we need a tax policy that does more than drive up the deficit. “The problem with structural deficits — ones that go up even in good times — is that they reveal that we’re unwilling to raise the necessary revenues to support the government we want and need. This enables those who whose goal is to shrink government to point to deficits and debt as their proof that we can’t afford it, whatever ‘it’ is, except when ‘it’ is tax cuts.” (New York Times)
Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers made his distaste for the Trump administration’s tax framework clear last week when he said Republicans were using “made-up” claims about the plan and its effects. Summers expanded his criticism on Tuesday in a blog post that took aim at the report released Monday by the Council of Economic Advisers and chair Kevin Hassett, which seeks to justify the administration’s claim that its tax plan will result in a $4,000 pay raise for the average American family.
Never one to mince words, Summers says the CEA analysis is “some combination of dishonest, incompetent and absurd.” The pay raise figure is indefensible, since “there is no peer-reviewed support for his central claim that cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would raise wages by $4000 per worker.” In the end, Summers says that “if a Ph.D student submitted the CEA analysis as a term paper in public finance, I would be hard pressed to give it a passing grade.”
One of the authors cited in the CEA paper also has some concerns. Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai tweeted Tuesday that the CEA analysis “misinterprets” a 2007 paper he co-wrote on the dynamics of the corporate tax burden. Desai’s research has found a connection between business tax cuts and wage growth, but not as large as the CEA paper claims. “Cutting corporate taxes will help wages but exaggeration only serves to undercut the reasonableness of the core argument,” Desai wrote.
National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said Monday that tax reform has to happen this year, even if it means Congress has to stay in session longer. "I think we have a unique window in time right now, but unfortunately we keep losing days to this window,” he said. “The opportunity is now." House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week he’d keep members over Christmas if that’s what it takes. And Ryan predicted Monday that tax reform would pass the House by early next month and then get through the Senate to reach the president’s desk by the end of the year. But there are plenty of skeptics out there, given the hurdles. Issac Boltansky, an analyst at the investment bank Compass Point, told Business Insider, "The idea of getting tax reform done this year is a farcical fantasy. Lawmakers have neither the time nor the capacity to formulate and clear a tax reform package in 2017."
Passing a budget resolution for 2018 through the Senate will open a procedural door to a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. The resolution is expected to reach the Senate floor this week, although there are questions about whether Republicans have the 50 votes they need to pass it. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) said this weekend that she would vote for it and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is likely a “yes” as well, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-TN) is reportedly a likely “no” and John McCain (R-AZ) appears questionable. Now it looks like Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MI) won't be back in Washington this week to vote on the resolution due to health problems. The Hill says Cochran’s absence puts tax reform “on knife’s edge.”