Congressional Republicans are on the cusp of delivering enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, in defiance of the wishes of a large majority of the American public, and of a small majority of their own party’s voters. They are poised to do so just hours after their final bill is written —and before holding a single hearing on their legislation’s (profound) consequences for higher education, the housing market, health care, the deficit, inequality, outsourcing, and tax avoidance.
One of the few remaining obstacles to the Republican tax bill is the anxiety of the party’s few, halfway-sincere deficit hawks. As written, the legislation will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade — and, assuming that Congress doesn’t allow a bunch of popular, middle-class tax cuts to phase out in 2026, the bill’s true cost will be even higher. The GOP leadership has assured their caucus’s fiscal scolds that the tax cuts will pay for themselves through higher growth. But Senators Bob Corker and James Lankford aren’t so certain. They want to add a “trigger” to the bill, which would repeal certain tax cuts if growth comes in weaker than expected.
This is a terrible idea. It would essentially require the government to raise taxes as soon as the economy goes into recession. But Republicans haven’t objected to it on these grounds. Rather, they’ve argued that the trigger will be “self-fulfilling” — if corporations can’t be “certain” that the tax cuts will be “permanent,” then they’ll hold back investment, and growth will come in weaker than expected.
“There’s one word: It’s certainty,” Nevada senator Dean Heller said Wednesday. “I do not support triggers.” Louisiana’s John Kennedy and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey have echoed this concern.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist laid out the logic of this objection on Twitter.
There’s some obvious dissonance between this argument and the GOP’s broader messaging. Republicans have insisted that tax cuts lead to higher growth as an immutable law of economic science — and that America’s job creators understand economics better than anyone. Thus, corporations should have “certainty,” even if there is a trigger in the bill, because they know that it will never go into effect.
The bigger problem with this “certainty” line, however, is that we live in a (putative) republic. Republicans are saying that their tax cuts will only “work” if corporations can be absolutely sure that they will never be repealed. But in a free society with open elections, it shouldn’t be possible for Wall Street to have such certainty about any policy — let alone, a historically unpopular one that Republicans misrepresented on the campaign trail, and then jammed through Congress in a couple weeks without any public hearings or extended debate.
Democrats currently lead polls of the 2018 generic congressional ballot by eight points. No previous president has been this unpopular this early in his tenure. More baby-boomers retire every day. Congress has never met a military spending increase it didn’t like. America’s infrastructure is in disarray; climate change ensures that the government will have to spend more and more on disaster relief; and automation is poised to displace large swaths of the workforce over the coming decades. In other words, it is getting more expensive for the government to meet its existing obligations to the public — and there is no popular mandate for scaling back those obligations. There is, however, broad, bipartisan support for raising taxes on corporations.
All of which is to say: There is a very good chance that Democrats will regain power in the next four-to-eight years — and that they will raise taxes on business when they do so.
Progressives have long argued that the Republican Party’s economic ideology is fundamentally hostile to democracy. While self-styled “libertarians” like Grover Norquist claim that their core political principle is individual liberty, their theory of good government cannot be implemented without undermining the bedrock freedom of every republic — the right to self-rule.
By rushing to pass unpopular legislation with little-to-no public debate or transparency, Republicans have tacitly admitted that this is true. Now, by arguing that this legislation will only be worthwhile if it is permanently immune from democratic rebuke, these “libertarians” have made their longing for authoritarianism explicit.