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Congress Moves Toward Costly Tax Cuts, Setting Stage for Deep Budget Cuts

October 26, 2017 at 3:30 PM

With the House adopting the Senate-passed budget resolution today, Congress has now set in motion a fast-track process to facilitate costly, ill-conceived tax cuts that will swell deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. As Robert Greenstein notes in a commentary, the deficit increases directly contradict the earlier assurances from congressional leaders that tax reform would be revenue neutral.

The commentary and a series of CBPP briefs note that once Congress passes deficit-bloating tax cuts, lawmakers who supported them will likely turn their attention to budget cuts to address the higher deficits. Greenstein notes:

Big, deficit-increasing tax cuts would have damaging consequences. The congressional budget plan calls for deep cuts in many important programs largely to address existing deficits. There should be little doubt that if the tax cuts are enacted, many of their proponents will, in future years, cite the resulting increases in deficits in arguing for sharp budgetary cutbacks. And low- and middle-income families would almost certainly bear much of the weight of such budget cuts, even though they would receive little benefit from the tax cuts.

Many Republican policymakers are already talking about using the same fast-track process (“budget reconciliation”) next year to push large cuts in entitlement programs as they plan to use this year to push the tax cuts. Reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered, and they require only a simple majority to pass the Senate, unlike most legislation that requires 60 Senate votes. Roll Call reports that it “interviewed half a dozen House Budget Committee members, as well as a few other fiscal hawks in the GOP conference, and they all said that they anticipate mandatory spending cuts [i.e., cuts in entitlement programs] being a priority for the fiscal 2019 budget reconciliation process.”

Indeed, some Republican lawmakers weren’t shy about their two-step strategy. “We dream those big dreams here,” Budget Committee member Rob Woodall said. “I’ll take half of that dream in tax reform, and then I’ll come back next spring for the other half.” Budget Committee Chair Diane Black similarly promised “some real attention on [deficit reduction] next year,” based on “the acknowledgement of our leadership,” Roll Call reports.

Congressional Republicans could have chosen to write a single bill with both tax cuts and the program cuts (or tax increases) to pay for them. This would have enabled the public and policymakers to evaluate the tradeoffs and make an informed decision. Instead, congressional Republicans appear bent on obscuring this tradeoff by splitting their agenda into two parts. But this doesn’t change the reality: the wealthy would win large tax cuts while everyone else would pay the tab, leaving most families worse off.


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