Republicans Punt on Deficits. Seriously.
If nothing else, the Republican Party is a machine for generating talking points - and irony. While Senators Mitch McConnell and Jeff Sessions insisted President Obama's $3.73 trillion budget proposal wasn't "serious," over in the Speaker House John Boehner and his lieutenant Paul Ryan claimed Obama "punted" on the deficit. Sadly, those sound bites came on the same day that GOP stars Jim Demint and Mike Pence proposed making the budget-busting, Treasury draining Bush tax cuts permanent. And as it turns out, the ironies hardly end there.
On Monday, Demint claimed Obama budget proposal as "would push us over the edge into generational debt." Pence insisted the administration's draft budget "not get the debt or deficit under control." Yet, as Steve Benen documented, literally within two hours the pair unveiled the "Tax Relief Certainty Act" which would "permanently extend the current individual income tax rates, which will expire on January 1, 2013, and permanently repeal the death tax."
Make permanent the 2001 and 2003 individual income tax relief for all hard-working Americans -- preserving the 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% income tax brackets, rather than allowing President Obama and Democrats to increase the top tax bracket to 39.6% and increase taxes on the lowest earning Americans in the bottom 10% bracket;
Permanently repeal the immoral and unfair death tax, which increases from 35% to 55% on Jan. 1, 2013. Permanent repeal of the death tax would increase GDP by $118.8 billion and lead to $23.3 billion per year in new federal revenue;
Prevent the tax increase on capital gains and dividends income for all Americans, rather than allowing the Democrats to increase the rates to 20% from the current 15%; and
Permanently patch the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).
If this sounds familiar, it should. It's not just a replay of the tax debate just concluded in December, but the same broken record Republicans having been playing since Ronald Reagan sat in the White House.
As you'll recall, the U.S. national debt tripled under Reagan and doubled again under George W. Bush. And despite his Republican mantra that "you cut taxes and the tax revenues increase," an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 accounted for half of the mushrooming deficits during his tenure. And as the CBPP concluded last year, the Bush tax cuts if made permanent would contribute more to the U.S. budget deficit over the next decade than the Obama stimulus, the TARP program, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and revenue lost to the recession - combined. (Of course, the wars were not paid for. But as Utah Republican Orrin Hatch admitted in 2009, during the Bush years "it was standard practice not to pay for things.")
Last year, the Congressional Budget Office forecast that over ten years what Demint and Pence are now calling the Tax Relief Certainty Act was certain to add $3.8 trillion to the national debt, including $700 billion delivered to the wealthiest 2% of Americans. (As it is, the two-year compromise extension agreed to in December by President Obama and Republican leaders in Congress will pour another $800 billion of red ink onto the American national fiscal ledger.) Looking at the CBO numbers last year, as Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias did, it's clear that the very worst thing the Congress could do to reduce future deficits is make the Bush tax cuts permanent.
Nevertheless, on Monday Senator Demint echoed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in calling the Obama budget proposal "unserious":
"Our nation won't win the future by repeating the mistakes of the past. The President has offered an unserious budget that ignores the warnings of his own bipartisan deficit commission and chooses political expediency over real leadership. As our country teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, the President's budget would push us over the edge into generational debt."
Of course, citing President Obama's deficit commission wasn't a very serious - or smart - maneuver. After all, Demint's leader Mitch McConnell was among the Republicans who voted against it.
Recall that the deficit commission was established by President Obama's executive order after a bill to create it was filibustered in the Senate by 53-46. That defeat came only after several Republican Senators voted against the very bill they once supported. As Politics Daily summed it up:
This reversal early this year involved six Republican co-sponsors of such a commission who voted against their own Senate bill. The six were McCain, Brownback, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma. McConnell had once supported the idea, but he too voted against it. The bill required an up-or-down vote on the commission recommendations. McConnell and others said they feared the panel might suggest raising taxes.
(As for John McCain, who has been relatively quiet on the President's budget, he derided the creation of what would become the Simpson-Bowles commission. "I want a spending commission, and I worry that this commission could have gotten together and agreed to increase taxes," he said, adding, "Spending cuts are what we need. We don't need to raise taxes.")
There's no doubt, as ABC News suggested today, that President Obama and Republicans leaders are engaged in a kabuki dance over entitlement spending, with each side waiting for the other to show its hand first. But despite their scathing criticism, the GOP leadership refuses to get specific about cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. While House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised Republicans "will be presenting at the end of next month, towards the beginning of April, our own budget, a serious document that will reflect the type of path we feel we should be taking to address the fiscal situation, including addressing entitlement reforms, unlike the president did in his budget." As Politico noted, Speaker Boehner played duck and cover:
When pressed if such reforms would include Social Security and Medicare, Boehner said he would "let Paul Ryan and the Budget Committee do their work. I have no doubt that all of these issues will be on the table."
Which should be interesting, to say the least. After all, on Tuesday Ryan blasted Obama budget director Jack Lew, "Why did you duck? Why did you not take this opportunity to lead?" Of course, Ryan was silent about his Roadmap for America's Future, in which he called for the privatization of Social Security and a voucher program (with the inevitable rationing which would ensue) for Medicare. So it came as no surprise that the future Speaker Boehner ran away from Ryan's Roadmap during the 2010 midterm campaign, saying simply, "it's his." It's no wonder former New Hampshire GOP Senator and Obama fiscal commission member Judd Gregg advised the President on Monday:
"Call the bluff of the Republican House members on the issue of the entitlements."
At the end of the day, anyone who is willing to reign in Medicare and Medicaid spending and raise future taxes after the economic recovery is further taxes simply isn't serious about reducing the U.S. national debt. As they wait for President Obama to make the politically difficult first moves, Republicans so far are punting on both.