CONGRESS'S OFFICIAL scorekeeper has once again delivered a message Republicans do not want to hear but should seriously consider: Their latest tax bill would balloon the deficit while significantly reducing the number of Americans with access to health care. Many Republicans have spent this year disparaging the Congressional Budget Office, though it is the nonpartisan gold standard in projecting how legislation will affect the country — and has a Republican-appointed director to boot. This week will test whether there are still enough Republicans with the minimal sense of civic responsibility to heed the bright warning lights flashing before them.
The CBO's latest report projects that the Senate Republican tax bill would open a $1.4 trillion hole in the budget, and that — as we will explain in a moment — is an understatement. Throughout the tax debate, Republicans have insisted that the tax cuts would lead to such robust growth that they would pay for themselves. This is a dangerous fantasy. There is no evidence or credible economic projection justifying GOP claims — nothing but wishful thinking. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released last week a "dynamic" score of the House version of the tax-cut bill, finding that growth would recoup only about 12 percent of the plan's cost over the first decade.
The fiscal impact of the Senate bill would be even worse except for this perverse fact: It saves money by reducing Americans' access to health care. Here's how that works: A partial Obamacare repeal hidden in the GOP plan would result in 13 million fewer people carrying health-care coverage. With fewer people enrolled, the government would spend less money helping people pay for insurance. Under the GOP scheme, some people would choose not to get coverage, but the CBO is clear that many others would be priced out of the market — a problem that Obamacare was designed to prevent and that Republicans promised they would not reimpose. Republicans are proposing to sacrifice people's access to health care in order to balance their numbers — and even then, their math does not add up.
Another big reason the CBO's estimates do not look worse is that Republicans have used gimmicks to "shoehorn the bill into the rules," as Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitted earlier this month. The Senate bill would, on paper, phase out tax breaks for individual filers after several years, which in theory reduces the bill's cost over the 10-year period that the law requires Congress to take into account. But Republicans promise that future Congresses will not allow those breaks to sunset. In other words, the true increase in the debt they are proposing is much bigger than $1.4 trillion. They're just not being honest about it.
The GOP would saddle future generations with ever-rising interest payments, even though decades of profligacy already have run up a huge bill for them to pay. And budget documents cannot depict the misery that would result from millions of Americans once again unable to afford health care. And for what? To lower business taxes and offer wealthy people a range of unnecessary giveaways, such as phasing down the estate tax.
With Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) apparently moving toward the irresponsibility caucus, announcing last week that she supports one of the bill's least defensible provisions, there may be only a few Republican senators with the backbone to call this piece of legislative malpractice out for what it is. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) come to mind, but there may be others. They could do the nation, and their party, a great service. Passing this bill would be more of a confirmation that Republicans are incapable of governing than passing no bill at all.
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