Republicans have been on a jihad to bankrupt the government for almost 40 years for two reasons: they believe government is inherently evil and that the rich are better than the rest of us by virtue of being rich.
Ever since Reagan, the GOP has managed to cut taxes, primarily for the rich. Then they waltz away from the damage knowing both that programs will have to be cut to pay for the tax cuts and that their successors will have to raise taxes to stop the bleeding.
The Reagan tax cuts spurred short-term growth for a few fiscal quarters and then caused the debt and deficit to explode so that President George H.W. Bush had to raise taxes. His son went Reagan one better. George W. Bush enacted massive tax cuts while the U.S. was fighting two wars, including his illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, a strategic disaster that led to the spread of ISIS, killed several hundred thousand people, and left taxpayers with a $2 trillion bill.
That meant the economy was already staggering when it collapsed in 2008, too weak to withstand the shock of a financial meltdown. That left Barack Obama to be the guy with the shovel and bucket following the horses in a parade, cleaning up the mess.
The Trump Republican’s $1.9 trillion tax cut in 2017 was more of the same. It rewarded the wealthy, while making sure there wasn’t enough money in the federal treasury to pay for federal programs. And that was the entire idea.
The proof is in the federal budget that House Republicans proposed last June. Faced with Trump tax cuts that will add $1 trillion to the national debt, the House GOP suggested making up for it by cutting Medicare by $537 billion over the next decade. They proposed slashing $1.5 trillion from Medicaid by slashing Medicaid payments to states. Another $231 billion would have been cut from education programs, including destroying the Pell Grant program for college students.
The proposal never became law, but it shows exactly where hard-core conservatives want to go. They want to continue reducing taxes on the wealthy and want to pay for it by cutting programs that America’s most vulnerable – the elderly, the poor, students – depend upon.
To them, people who depend on that kind of assistance, from food aid to student loans, are moral failures because they don’t have enough money to pay for everything themselves. Back in 2012, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney summed up the view perfectly when he railed against the “takers” who leach off of the “makers,” claiming that 47 percent of Americans are parasites living off the rest of the country.
The conservative drive to reward the rich and punish everyone else has infected both language and how we think about solving the problem. To the GOP, the rich aren’t rich. They’re “job creators.” And any sensible plan to fix the fiscal mess by raising taxes on the wealthy is never even mentioned. Instead, programs have to be cut even further, except for defense, since that’s where the big money, campaign contributions, and lobbying opportunities are.
The conservative double-talk virus is so infectious that even D.C. Democrats have caught it. The newly Democratic-controlled House has passed rules on how the House of Representatives operates. And included in the reams of rule changes is a “pay as you go” provision.
Shortened in D.C. speak to “PayGo,” the proposal says any increases in “entitlement” spending (meaning Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) have to be offset by cuts in other social programs to keep the deficit from galloping out of control even faster. The deficit, after Trump’s tax cuts, ballooned an astonishing 17 percent in 2018.
But the problem here isn’t the deficit. It’s that the Democrats are going along with the far right’s economic agenda, from calling bedrock programs for financial security like Social Security “entitlements” to codifying that the only way to pay for unfair tax cuts for the well-off is to cut services for Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
If we follow that path, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, it means that non-defense non-entitlement federal spending would have to be cut by more than 40 percent to make up for the Richie Rich windfall the GOP-controlled Congress passed and Trump signed. But even those cuts wouldn’t be enough.
As both Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and ex-House Budget Committee chair Rep. Steve Womack (R-Arkansas) have said, deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare are the only answers to the spiraling deficit and debt that could push the country into an economic catastrophe worse than the Great Depression. Ex-House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) went along, blaming the looming crisis not on tax cut giveaways to corporate fat cats, but on programs that keep low-income Americans alive.
You can’t cut your way to prosperity. And yet the only sensible, fiscally sound way out of this mess is never mentioned: targeted tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. Raise the income tax on individuals making over $600,000 a year. Raise corporate taxes. Raise the capital gains tax. Remove the current lid on income that pays for Social Security. Right now, only the first $128,400 of income in taxed for Social Security. Remove that lid, and Social Security will be solvent forever.
Instead of that, though, the Democratic House has decided to play on the GOP’s home field with PayGo, insisting that more cuts, not increased revenues, are the path back to sanity. That’s economic nonsense.
House Democrats may have a sensible political motive for this, since any tax hikes on the rich would be DOA in the Republican-controlled Senate and the Trump White House. But long-term, unless we want to hollow out Social Security, Medicare, and every other social program important to a functioning, civilized society, tax hikes like that are the only sane option.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.