THE NATIONAL debt is $20 trillion and rising. That is the highest it has been as a slice of the economy since 1950. Now the Senate has approved a tax plan that would make the problem substantially worse while widening inequality and reducing access to health-care coverage. The current generation will pay. The next will pay more.
Republicans were warned over and over again. The Joint Committee on Taxation, an important congressional scorekeeper, reported Thursday that the Senate plan would add $1 trillion to the debt — and that is after accounting for any economic growth the bill would spur. The committee was just the latest nonpartisan group to predict massive new debt. But Republicans who have inveighed against budget deficits for years simply ignored the numbers. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) was the lone exception, showing his colleagues what integrity looks like by voting no.
The future they have mandated for the next generation is one in which the government has fewer resources to respond to a major economic crisis, let alone to invest in keeping the country competitive. The next time there is a recession, Congress will have to choose between pumping needed money into the economy and pushing the debt into ever more dangerous territory. Many more people could lose their jobs.
A rapidly expanding debt would cause harm even in normal times. Interest rates will rise, dragging on the economy. As federal debt service costs expand, they will consume cash needed for roads, education, national defense and health care.
Future generations will bear an enhanced debt burden so Republicans can cut taxes in the midst of an increasingly strong economic expansion that requires no intervention. The bill would exacerbate wealth inequality, perhaps the defining issue of the time. It is packed with gifts to the rich, including a totally unjustifiable cut in the estate tax, which would help only extremely wealthy heirs. Reform of the personal tax code would bring mild changes to ordinary people but massive benefits to wealthier people. Breaks for working folks would phase out in several years; those for corporations would not. The bill would limit states’ capacity to respond with policies of their own, and it harms Democratic states more than Republican ones.
The bill’s centerpiece — a corporate tax cut — could be worthwhile, but only if it were financed by eliminating corporate tax loopholes and were revenue-neutral. This cut vastly increases debt at the long-term expense of middle-class taxpayers.
For those in the individual health-care market, the bill promises only to promote chaos by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance mandate, a key element of the law, without a replacement. Senators such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who halted a sloppy repeal a few months ago, voted Friday to betray many of the people they once sought to protect. The proposals Ms. Collins favors to balance the individual mandate repeal would not offset the coverage losses and price increases it would cause.
Republicans rushed through this massive change in policy with cursory vetting and no attempt at bipartisanship. They either do not care about the debt or they are so deluded by wishful thinking and fantasy economics that they should not be running a gas station, let alone the country. Either way, they just failed Governing 101.