The Republican tax-cut plan has been caught in the vise of an obscure but extremely powerful Senate rule. The “Byrd Rule” prohibits using a budget-reconciliation bill — which cannot be filibustered, and thus does does not need Democratic votes — to increase the budget deficit outside the ten-year budget window. That means the Republican tax-cut plan either needs to offset its planned tax cuts for rich people with tax increases on non-rich people, which is politically unpopular, or else expire after ten years, like the Bush tax cuts did.
But The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports that there may be a way out of this vise. Senate Republicans could simply vote as a majority to extend the budget window beyond ten years (a decade simply being a convention). The budget window could be 20 or 30 years. Then they could pass a huge tax cut for affluent people that expires, but the expiration date would lie so far in the future that it might as well be permanent.
Rubin does not conclude that the GOP has settled on this tactic. He merely presents it as an option being considered by some influential members of Congress and the administration. But it appears to be an almost cost-free solution for a party faced with unpalatable trade-offs.
To be sure, there’s no such thing as a “permanent” tax cut, anyway. As soon as it passes, Democrats will run for office promising to cancel out the Trump tax cuts for the rich, and will have the chance to do so if and when they get full control of government. But increasing taxes is politically painful — even just taxes on the rich, which are politically popular to raise, because rich people have a lot of influence. A tax cut that lasts for two or three decades is, functionally, a permanent change.
If you take seriously all the reporting that Republican “deficit hawks” are concerned about passing a yuge tax cut because of red ink, then you probably think this idea will have trouble. But I don’t take that seriously. The Republican Party has people who don’t like social-transfer spending, but nobody in the Republican Party cares about the deficit. And so the long budget window is where they will land.