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GOP Budget Violates Boehner's New Rules on Debt

January 23, 2013

When John Boehner picked up the Speaker's gavel in January 2011, he also laid down some new rules regarding the U.S. national debt. Despite the near-doubling of the red ink and the seven debt limit increases under President Bush (all of which Boehner supported), the first Boehner Rule demands "cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase." And now that House Republicans are voting to suspend the debt ceiling until mid-May, Speaker Boehner has issued a new decree that "It's time for us to come to a plan that will in fact balance the budget over the next 10 years."
Unfortunately for the Speaker and his GOP allies, Congressional Republicans have already violated Boehner's new rules on both counts. As it turns out, last spring 228 GOP Representatives and 41 Republican Senators voted for the 2012 Paul Ryan budget that adds trillions more in new debt over the next decade.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained last March, the "Ryan plan [is] unlikely to balance the budget for decades." And for his part, Speaker Boehner admitted as much. As he explained to a Tea Party gathering in April 2011:

"We're going to have to raise it again in the future," he added. With the mass retirement of America's Baby Boomers, he explained, it would take 20 years to balance the U.S. budget and 30 years after that to erase the nation's huge fiscal deficit.

And in May 2012, Boehner acknowledged that the Paul Ryan budget almost all Republicans backed would violate "my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase":

"Yeah, the big bad House Republican budget that would just gut everything under the sun, according to my friends across the aisle, would still require a $5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling over the next 10 years. Why? Because of the great big demographic bubble -- baby boomers like me, that are going to retire and continue to retire for the next 20-25 years. It's a big challenge."

The Ryan budget poses a big challenge, all right, but not for the reason Boehner claimed. Despite cutting over $4 trillion in programs for the poor and elderly, converting Medicare into a voucher program, slashing Medicaid by over a third (and leaving 48 million more people without health insurance), and essentially ending all government spending outside of defense, health care and Social Security, Paul Ryan's budget would trillions in red ink over the next decade. The real culprit is Ryan's massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy.

As Ezra Klein explained:

The Tax Policy Center looked into the revenue loss associated with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's plan to cut the tax code down to two rates of 10 percent and 25 percent. They estimate the changes would raise $31.1 trillion over 10 years, or 15.4 percent of GDP. That's $10 trillion less than the tax code would raise if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire, and $4.6 trillion less than it would raise if all of the Bush tax cuts were extended.
The Republican congressman says he'll "broaden the tax base to maintain revenue...consistent with historical norms of 18 to 19 percent." So let's say Ryan needs to find close-enough deductions and loopholes to hit 18.5 percent of GDP. That means he'd need to close about $6.2 trillion in tax deductions and loopholes over 10 years.

But at no point either before or after he became Mitt Romney's running mate did Paul Ryan have the courage to name a single deduction or loophole he'd close, tax expenditures that all told cost the United States Treasury over $1 trillion each year. Paul Krugman called it "Pink Slime Economics." Matthew Yglesias concurred, pointing out in March that Ryan was too cowardly to specify which of the $1 trillion in annual tax expenditures he'd end:

Thirteen pages dedicated to explaining his vision for revenue-neutral tax reform. And even so he manages to not name a single tax deduction that he's planning to eliminate. Home mortgage interest deduction? I dunno. Electric vehicle tax credit? I dunno. Deductibility of state and local income taxes? I dunno.

For his part, Paul Ryan repeatedly admitted as much. The House Ways and Means Committee, he said, would "show how they would go about doing this."
But because neither Paul Ryan nor Mitt Romney (who adopted the same dodge for his tax cut windfall for the wealthy) ever said how they would do "this," over the next 10 years the Ryan House budget would add substantially more to the national debt than President Obama's proposed 2013 plan.
As the Center for American Progress explained in March, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment of the Ryan budget "did not test Rep. Ryan's claims about how his policies would actually affect spending or revenue," but "merely showed what would happen to the debt if his claims were true." In a nutshell, they are not:

But the House budget's entire claim to deficit reduction is built on the foundation of those fantasy revenue levels. Without them, the debt goes up, not down. In fact, with all the House budget's tax cuts properly accounted for, revenue would average just 15.3 percent of GDP from 2013 through 2022, not 18.3 percent. The result: deficits would never drop below 4.4 percent of GDP, and would rise to more than 5 percent of GDP by 2022. The national debt, measured as a share of GDP, would never decline, surpassing 80 percent by 2014, and 90 percent by 2022. By comparison, President Barack Obama's budget proposal, released in February, would stabilize the debt by 2015, and bring it down to 76 percent by 2022.

As House Republicans gathered at their secret retreat last week, not all were happy with Speaker Boehner's gambit to suspend the debt ceiling for three months. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) fretted, ""If you vote for a clean, three-month debt extension, and you say you vote on principle, then what set of principles keeps you from voting on a six-month debt extension clean," adding:

"Three months from now, when they ask for another debt extension, how can you say, 'I will never, ever do that' when you just did it three months ago?"

Or, Massie could have rightly added, as 98 percent of Republicans in Congress voted to require less than a year ago.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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