First, President Trump and his senior adviser insisted the tax bill would not benefit the rich. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) repeatedly assured the country this was aimed at the middle class. The results — a bill in which $1 trillion of the relief goes to businesses — affirm that the bill, to put it mildly, is a bait and switch. The degree to which the administration claims it could not help but benefit the rich and that Ryan continues to peddle this as something other than trickle-down economics is indicative of the behavior that generates anger and cynicism about the political system.
Second, Senate and House budget hawks falsely have insisted over and over again that the cuts pay for themselves. If they truly believe this, they’ve flunked economics 101 and refused to look at objective data. If they know what they are saying is untrue, as many suspect, they are hypocrites, forever losing their claim to fiscal conservatism. That they now feel compelled to begin talk about entitlements cuts suggest they know they’re unleashing a torrent of red ink. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have lost their claim to fiscal sobriety.
Grilled about his fiscal irresponsibility, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) had this jaw-dropping exchange on Sunday on “Face the Nation”:
LANKFORD: Actually, all the independent analysis doesn’t note that [the tax bill would grow the debt by $1 trillion or more]. The Joint Committee on Tax does note that, but the Tax Foundation doesn’t. There’s a lot of others.
We have 130 different sets of economists that are out there, and part of the challenge is always looking at which one is right. All of them are putting a forecast out there. All of them have different numbers. We have some as high as a 5 percent growth. We have some as low as 0.8 percent growth. All of them show economic growth.
The guess is, how much economic growth is in the bill itself? The target of any time you do tax reform is to try reduce taxes on individuals and on businesses, so they have more money to spend, they can spend that money. That encourages the economy to grow. We know it will grow. Now the guess is how much.
JOHN DICKERSON: That’s right. And the Tax Foundation is still around $500 billion to the debt, and there are — the majority of independent analysis shows even larger.
And that bet you’re making, isn’t there a big downside risk that you have talked about throughout your career, which is that the negative effects of increased debt kill the growth that you’re trying to create?
Oh, so he was lying when he began by insisting all independent analyses didn’t show the debt growing. But don’t bet on Lankford to listen to his own voice, realize he sounds laughably disingenuous and change his votes.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who seems on a mission to debunk GOP lies, declared simply on “Meet the Press“: “My concern about this bill is the debt. And they did not do enough to be able to cover. This bill is not going to pay for itself. Everybody knows that.” But not everyone admits it. “So at the end, Chuck, here’s the problem, as debt gets higher and higher and higher, it slows the economy down,” he argued. “So when you cut taxes to provide more economic growth, at the same time you drive up the debt, they kind of work in opposite of one another.”
Third, tax simplification, another selling point, was never seriously contemplated. The New York Times explains:
As their bill tore through Congress, their ambitions fell to the powerful forces of lobbying and the status quo. Killed tax breaks returned to life. New ones sprung up beside them. A plan for three individual tax brackets became five, and finally eight.
Trade groups, such as the one for real estate agents, were able to preserve many benefits targeted for elimination. The groups whose breaks were actually killed formed an eclectic, if less powerful, bunch: bicycle commuters, gamblers, workers whose companies give them free food.
What emerged on Friday, in the final product agreed to by Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee, was a bill that layers new tax complexities upon businesses large and small, and which delivers a larger share of benefits to corporations and the rich than to the middle class.
Fourth, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was — depending upon whom you believe — disingenuous, confused or naive. (All three.) At various times she insisted the bill would not increase the debt (see No. 2) and that she received assurances that would more than offset the damage done to the Obamacare exchanges by repeal of the individual mandate (also false). Most infuriating to those who regarded her as a smart and reasonable legislator, she accepted promises the Republicans leadership could never deliver upon (because House Republicans were not on board) to pass two pieces of legislation that would provide new money for the exchanges and also subsidize states’ high-risk pool. When it was apparent she’d been fooled, she meekly decided to vote for it anyway. Whatever kudos she earned in opposing assaults on the Affordable Care Act have been forfeited. It is hard to think of a lawmaker whose reputation has been harmed more than hers.
When Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) was asked on ABC about Collins, he all but said she’d gotten taken for a ride:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The Democrats say they’re not going to join. And that leads to the question about Senator Susan Collins. This was one of her conditions for passing the bill, along with the passage of the Alexander-Murray bill to stabilize the health insurance markets. Do you have her vote even if those provisions are not guaranteed?
CORNYN: Well, Senator Collins has been very constructive throughout this process. And she has vastly improved this bill by protecting taxpayers in the states their state and local tax deduction, a $10,000 cap which benefits everybody. And she has been a champion of trying to stabilize the Affordable Care markets and to bring premiums down. And we will all join her in that effort to bring those premiums down and stabilize the market.
And we will not trigger a cut in Medicare. We will deal with that this week. And, again, I invite our Democratic friends to join us in protecting Medicare.
Fifth, Trump keeps repeating that the bill will cause his own taxes to go up, something impossible to substantiate given his insistence in concealing his tax returns. The bill is in fact likely to save him tens of millions of dollars, given the tax breaks for the rich (e.g. reducing the top marginal tax rate, installing a pass-through tax deduction, paring back the estate tax). In that sense it is the most egregious act of self-enrichment in memory, the most galling sort of corruption one can imagine (aside from self-promoting properties, receiving foreign emoluments, steering business from those including foreign governments one’s way, etc.).
In the self-enrichment department, reports suggested a provision made its way into the bill at the last moment that would have greatly benefited real estate LLCs. When Corker switched his vote from no to yes, he was accused of self-dealing since he would directly benefit from this provision. In a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Corker claimed to have been unaware of it and blamed faulty news reports — but also asked for an explanation as to how the provision wound up in the bill. His change from no to yes may be entirely unrelated to the real estate item, but when I repeatedly asked his office Sunday night if he’d still vote for it now that this item has come to light, I got no response. (Cornyn said it was one item used to “cobble together” votes; if so, he should disclose the lawmaker for whom it was cobbled.)
The infuriating part of this is that none of the snake-oil salesmanship, the debt creation, the procedural sleights of hands, the heightened income inequality, the secret deals and the contempt for voters was necessary. A revenue-neutral corporate tax reform coupled with a payroll tax break for middle- and lower-income Americans was entirely possible — with wide bipartisan support. But that was not what Republicans, their donors and the fleet of lobbyists wanted. Republicans would have earned more respect if they simply fessed up to what they were doing. If they actually believed that leaving the super-rich and corporations richer than ever was good for Americans, they should have just said so.
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