Donald Trump is looking for a big win as he draws close to the end of his first 100 days in office. Healthcare reform has failed, Obamacare is very much still with us, and the smoke and mirrors of the new healthcare proposal doesn’t seem to be fooling anyone. The travel ban is held up in the courts, and looks like it will never happen. Even the stock market has not been cooperating lately. As I write this, Donald Trump’s biggest accomplishment has been putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, and even that came with the asterisk known as the nuclear option. So Trump is pretty desperate for a legislative win, and he thinks he can get it with tax reform. “Tax reform”, of course, is a euphemism for a massive tax cut for the rich. George W Bush had relatively little trouble getting Congress to approve his tax cuts, but they were set to expire in ten years, making it relatively easy for Obama to get rid of them when the time came. Now, Trump and his enablers in Congress want to avoid that problem by making the new tax cuts permanent. That, fortunately, is harder to do.
The reason for that is something called the Byrd Rule. Approved in 1985 and amended into its current form five years later, the Rule allows anyone in the Senate to object to any legislation on the grounds that it increases the deficit for a period longer than ten years. The objection can only be overcome by a 60 vote majority, which means at the moment that Trump would need to find six Democrats to join him while keeping all of the Republicans on board. So far, this has proven impossible on any issue. His other choice is to get passed into law measures which would offset the impact of his tax cuts on the budget, and he was hoping to do this with massive cuts to healthcare. Now, however, we are starting to hear noise about something called “dynamic scoring”.
Dynamic scoring is the pretext for tax cuts for the wealthy in the first place. You sell the idea to voters based on the ridiculous idea that the stimulus these tax cuts will provide to the economy will be so powerful that they will actually reduce the deficit. That is, a sharp drop in federal revenues will magically result in the government taking in more funds than it spends. I explained a couple of weeks ago why this idea is doomed to fail. Paul Krugman, when he talks about this, refers to what he calls “the confidence fairy”. But this is not simply an argument about competing theories. Tax cuts like these have been tried before, and we don’t have to guess what will happen when recent history tells us. I mentioned that Bush passed his temporary tax cuts. The deficit exploded. As should have been obvious, when the government took in a lot less money, it wound up owing more. Fans of dynamic scoring will point out that Bush then engaged in two costly wars, and they will try to claim that, without those wars, the Bush tax cuts would have worked as advertised. OK. Suppose we take them at their word. Are they willing to end all US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pledge to not take any military action anywhere in the world, in the fight against terrorism or for any other reason, to pay for their tax cuts? Do they expect to convince us that they could keep such a pledge with this president in office? Barring such a pledge, we have every reason to expect that paying for Trump tax cuts with dynamic scoring would lead to a repeat of the Bush deficit explosion. Keep in mind as well that we should have expected the jump in military spending from the Bush wars to stimulate the economy, but instead we saw the weakest recovery from any US recession since World War II. So let’s score dynamic scoring, and give it the failing grade it deserves. Let’s recognize that tax cuts are a form of government spending, and insist that they can not be paid for with play money. Let’s force Trump and his friends to explain what cuts they will make to coddle the rich, and see if they can sell them to the voters.
Tonight’s song is one I had not heard before tonight. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, but its tribute to government in dementia seems fitting: