Democrats shouldn’t put themselves in a fiscal straitjacket.On Thursday, the best House speaker of modern times reclaimed her gavel, replacing one of the worst. It has taken the news media a very long time to appreciate the greatness of Nancy Pelosi, who saved Social Security from privatization, then was instrumental in gaining health insurance for 20 million Americans. And the media are still having a hard time facing up to the phoniness of their darling Paul Ryan, who, by the way, left office with a 12 percent favorable rating.
There’s every reason to expect that Pelosi will once again be highly effective. But some progressive Democrats object to one of her initial moves — and on the economics, and probably the politics, the critics are right.
.. The issue in question is “paygo,” a rule requiring that increases in spending be matched by offsetting tax increases or cuts elsewhere.
You can argue that as a practical matter, the rule won’t matter much if at all. On one side, paygo is the law, whether Democrats put it in their internal rules or not. On the other side, the law can fairly easily be waived, as happened after the G.O.P.’s huge 2017 tax cut was enacted.
But adopting the rule was a signal of Democratic priorities — a statement that the party is deeply concerned about budget deficits and willing to cramp its other goals to address that concern. Is that a signal the party should really be sending?
.. Furthermore, there are things the government should be spending money on even when jobs are plentiful — things like fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and helping children get education, health care and adequate nutrition. Such spending has big long-run payoffs, even in purely monetary terms.
Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money very cheaply — the interest rate on inflation-protected 10-year bonds is only about 1 percent. These low borrowing costs, in turn, reflect what seems to be a persistent savings glut — that is, the private sector wants to save more than it’s willing to invest, even with very low interest rates.
Or consider what happened after Democrats enacted the Affordable Care Act, going to great lengths to pay for the additional benefits with tax increases and spending cuts. A majority of voters still believed that it increased the deficit. Reality doesn’t seem to matter.
.. Anyway, the truth is that while voters may claim to care about the deficit, hardly any of them really do. For example, does anyone still believe that the Tea Party uprising was a protest against deficits? From the beginning, it was basically about race — about the government spending money to help Those People. And that’s true of a lot of what pretends to be fiscal conservatism.
.. In fact, even the deficit scolds who played such a big role in Beltway discourse during the Obama years seem oddly selective in their concerns about red ink. After all those proclamations that fiscal doom was coming any day now unless we cut spending on Social Security and Medicare, it’s remarkable how muted their response has been to a huge, budget-busting tax cut. It’s almost as if their real goal was shrinking social programs, not limiting national debt.
.. So am I saying that Democrats should completely ignore budget deficits? No; if and when they’re ready to move on things like some form of Medicare for All, the sums will be so large that asking how they’ll be paid for will be crucial.
This tax reform thing won’t be as easy as Republicans think
Despite all that trickle-down propaganda, about three-quarters of Americans — and more than half of Republicans — believe that wealthy households and big corporations pay too little in taxes
.. That said, Republicans’ main problem isn’t what the little people think. It’s what the lobbyists want and, more significantly, what complicated budget rules allow.
.. Fitting a $2.4 trillion peg into a $1.5 trillion hole will be tricky. Proposals to cut the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent and repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax alone cost $2 trillion, according to the Tax Policy Center. Republicans will have to find more offsets, or make the cuts less generous, or both... As a result, Republican lawmakers are even more likely than usual to deploy budgetary gimmicks, such as ludicrous-speed economic growth or pretending that a corporate tax break will expire in five years when everyone knows it will be renewed... “statutory PAYGO,” that hasn’t gotten much attention.This legislation has been on and off the books (it’s been on since 2010) since 1990. It says that if all of the bills passed by the end of the current calendar year have the net effect of increasing deficits, then automatic, immediate, offsetting cuts to certain non-discretionary spending programs — including (yikes) Medicare — go into effect.
.. If Congress successfully passes a $1.5 trillion tax cut before going home for Christmas, $28 billion would get automatically slashed from Medicare between January and September of next year. And that’s just in Medicare. Other popular programs, such as mandatory spending on student loan administration and farm subsidies, would be wiped out entirely
.. But here’s the key: A bill to override these cuts would require 60 votes.
.. Republicans seem to believe they can get the votes by threatening to cast Democrats as killing Medicare. But what’s to stop smart Democrats from pointing out that Republicans put Medicare at risk in the first place?