Republicans are ideologically committed to slashing taxes on the wealthy and corporations. And they’re politically prohibited from raising taxes on most middle-class families, cutting defense spending, or reducing entitlement benefits. In practice, this means that radically increasing the national debt is a core pillar of the GOP’s economic agenda.
Of course, Republicans spent the past decade claiming the very opposite. So, to reconcile their Obama-era rhetoric and Trump-era tax bill, GOP leaders have been forced to claim that their tax cuts will actually pay for themselves by generating higher growth. This premise is absurd: While growth effects could (mildly) ameliorate the bill’s deficit impact, they couldn’t possibly close a $1.5 trillion revenue gap.
Most of the party’s erstwhile deficit hawks are willing to pretend otherwise. But, at least for the moment, some aren’t. Oklahoma senator James Lankford is one. As Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reports:
If the GOP leadership believed their own rhetoric, then they’d welcome Lankford’s proposal. After all, so long as the bill did what Republicans claim it would, the Oklahoma senator’s amendment would be moot. The trouble is, the GOP leadership — and their corporate benefactors — don’t actually drink their own supply-side Kool-Aid.
Lankford has, essentially, called his party’s bluff.
Now, in reality, the senator’s proposal is insane. Eventually, the American economy is going to slip back into recession. When that happens, revenues will fall — and, if Lankford gets his way, taxes will soar. At that point, Congress would either override Lankford’s amendment, or allow it to plunge the country into an even deeper recession (the last thing you want to do when your economy is suffering from a dearth of consumer spending is take money out of people’s pockets).
But Mitch McConnell can’t make this point: If you acknowledge that recessions remain an inevitable part of capitalism — and that during downturns, governments must run large deficits to stimulate the economy — then it becomes even harder to justify passing large tax cuts in the middle of an expansion.
The Trump tax cuts are never going to be fiscally responsible. The only question is whether Lankford and his fellow GOP deficit hawks will insist on being so, themselves.