I see that the Republican convention will feature a debt clock ticking away behind the speakers. It will also, as I understand it, consist entirely of speakers who want to make all the Bush tax cuts permanent without paying for them, and who want to pass trillions of dollars more in tax cuts that they also haven’t said how they’ll pay for.
Michael Grunwald’s “The New New Deal” reminded me of a telling anecdote on this score. Back during the stimulus debate, Republicans made two overarching arguments against the Democrats’ proposal. First, that it cost too much. Second, that it wasn’t, in Larry Summers’s words, sufficiently “timely, temporary and targeted,” which is to say, it wouldn’t spend fast enough, end soon enough or get enough bang for its buck.
The Senate Republicans didn’t unite around a single stimulus plan of their own. But all but four of them voted for Sen. Jim DeMint’s “American Option: A Jobs Plan That Works.” DeMint’s plan would have extended all of the Bush tax cuts permanently, cut the top marginal rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and the estate tax to almost nothing.
The proposal would have cost about $3 trillion over the next decade — so a bit less than 400 percent what the stimulus cost — and not a dollar of it would’ve been paid for. There was no expiration date, and the tax cuts were largest for the richest Americans, making it neither temporary nor targeted. Yet most every Senate Republican voted for it. And now they’re standing on the stage underneath a debt clock arguing that the Obama administration spent too much.
The point here isn’t that Republicans are hypocritical. It’s that their concern for the deficit is a recent phenomenon. It didn’t exist in the Bush years, it didn’t exist in the early Obama administration, and we pretty much just have to take their word that it exists now. But both Romney’s and Ryan’s budgets include a tax reform that looks very much like what DeMint proposed, and while they promise to figure out a way to pay for it, they haven’t actually done so. If that tax reform isn’t paid for — as DeMint’s wasn’t paid for, and as Bush’s tax cuts weren’t paid for, and as Reagan’s tax cuts weren’t paid for — then their budgets blow a multitrillion-dollar hole in the deficit.