President Trump's flailings are ever more terrifying. In the course of a few days, he tossed a grenade into the health-care markets that millions rely on, traduced the Iran nuclear deal, threatened to abandon American citizens ravaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, continued to sabotage action on climate change, tweeted about censoring the media, and so undermined Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) likened it to "castration." Yet for all of that, Trump's grotesqueries are exceeded by a Republican-led Congress intent on a course so ruinous as to be, one hopes, impossible to sustain.
This week, Senate Republicans will seek to push through a budget resolution for the current fiscal year. The resolution provides guidelines for spending and tax cuts, with projections for the next 10 years. It has the support of virtually all of the Republican caucus. Its provisions are destructive and absurd.
The resolution is designed to facilitate passage of tax cuts with Republican votes only. The final tax cut package hasn't been written yet, but Republicans leaders have produced a "framework." This bill will worsen the extreme inequality that already corrupts our democracy and impedes economic growth. The top 1 percent will pocket more than half of the tax cuts next year and an obscene 80 percent by year 10. This bill will also reward multinationals for booking profits as earned abroad to avoid taxes. The legislation offers a retroactive tax cut for the $2.6 trillion that has evaded taxation and would expand that tax dodge by eliminating taxes altogether on profits that they report as earned abroad. At a time when hedge-fund operators pay a lower tax rate than schoolteachers, this bill would increase the outrage, with a massive tax break for real estate barons, hedge-fund managers and lawyers by taxing "pass-through" income at a reduced rate. Instead of closing loopholes, the bill adds to them.
The spending side has received less attention but may be even worse. The Senate bill proposes $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At a time when baby boomers are retiring, it calls for cuts of $473 billion in Medicare, $1 trillion in Medicaid and another $300 billion in Obamacare subsidies to medium- and low-income workers. It cuts more than $650 billion in income security programs for low-income workers — primarily food stamps, the earned-income tax credit and child tax credit, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for disabled seniors and others in need. Another $200 billion is cut from Pell grants and student loans that help working families afford college. These decreases will leave millions without affordable health care and make millions of disabled and low-income Americans even more vulnerable.
The budget also projects stunning reductions in what is called non-defense discretionary spending, essentially everything the government does outside of the military, entitlements and interest payments on the national debt. These include programs that contribute to our safety — such as law enforcement, the Coast Guard, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration — as well as services vital to our health — such as environmental protection, water and sewage systems. It also includes public investment vital to our economy and our future — in science and technology, medical research, modern infrastructure, education, advanced training and more.
These programs are already projected for deep cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act, but the Senate bill decimates them. By 2019, it cuts this spending by 10 percent from 2017 levels, and by nearly 20 percent by 2027. As a share of the economy, spending on domestic services will be cut to levels not seen since Herbert Hoover.
In a society dealing with a growing population, rising global competition and pressing new challenges such as catastrophic climate change, the Republican-led Senate cashes in our future for top-end tax cuts. We will lag rather than lead the industrial world in education and training. We will squander our edge in innovation. We will suffer the rising perils and the costs of a decrepit and outmoded infrastructure. We witness all this already today, but the Senate budget course will accelerate the trends and make them worse.
This folly is, one hopes, too extreme to be sustained. Yet this week, all of the Republican senators — with perhaps one or two dissenters — will line up to vote for a budget that is truly a road to ruin. Why? Partly, of course, they will reward the wealthy and special interests that pay for their party. Part comes from fear of even more right-wing challengers if they don't toe the line. Part may be purblind ideological conviction, although it is hard to imagine that any truly believe these measures would make things better. Part may be desperation — Republicans believe they have to get something done, even if it does more harm than good to most Americans in the long run. If Trump's increasingly manic careening terrifies, the remorseless suicide mission of the Republican caucus in Congress should horrify.