The GOP's Groundhog Day
Why the looming budget fight will echo the GOP's health-care fiasco
TrumpCare is all but dead, and most sensible Republican lawmakers have resigned themselves to moving on to the next legislative battle. They want to pass a new budget blueprint for the next decade, complete with a sweeping tax code reform. House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) has shepherded the blueprint through her committee, which voted on it Wednesday. From there, the budget must be approved by the entirety of the House, and then the Senate.
There should be a sense of doom-laden familiarity about all of this.
Here was TrumpCare in a nutshell: Big tax reductions for the wealthy, plus big cuts to government aid for the poor, and all of it packaged together by the reconciliation process, which allows bills to sneak through the Senate with 51 votes, bypassing the filibuster as long as they stick to fiscal policy changes and don't increase the deficit after 10 years.
Reconciliation allows the GOP, which holds a narrow 52-seat majority in the Senate, to avoid cooperating with any Democrats. But it also forces the party to corral its moderate and extremist wings. On health care, the GOP couldn't offer the big tax cuts without the big aid cuts, putting the moderates and extremists on a collision course.
We all know how that turned out.
The approach the Republican Party takes to its budget will say a lot about what, if anything, it learned from the whole TrumpCare fiasco. And so far, that budget is looking like big tax reductions for the wealthy, plus big cuts to government aid for the poor, and all of it packaged together by reconciliation.
The GOP's blueprint essentially communicates budget savings goals to each major House committee, who then have to hit or exceed those numbers by cutting the various programs over which they have jurisdiction. That adds up to $203 billion over 10 years cut from major welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability benefits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and student aid. Then the GOP would tack on another $130 billion in cuts over 10 years to non-defense discretionary spending — basically, all the government spending for every conceivable form of public investment that isn't the military or major safety net programs.
Those spending cuts would be used to offset a tax reform plan in the spirit of the "Better Way" proposal the House GOP unveiled last year. The details are still being haggled over, but it would cut top income tax rates, lower the tax rate on corporate profits, and clear out a number of loopholes, among other changes. The Tax Policy Center estimated that once the plan was fully implemented, 96 percent of the tax relief it offered would go to households making $1 million or more a year.
That $333 billion in spending cuts and the offsetting tax revenue reductions are what's being packaged together under the reconciliation procedure. The spending cuts make sure the tax cuts don't blow up the deficit, and the whole thing can be shoved through both chambers without having to get any Democrats on board.
But just like TrumpCare before it, this gambit is threatening civil war within Republican ranks.
Last month, 20 members of the House's moderate Tuesday Group penned a letter objecting to even $200 billion in spending cuts, calling them "not practical" and warning that they would "make enacting tax reform even more difficult than it already will be." Meanwhile, the hardcore conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), are already complaining the spending cuts are not nearly deep enough.
To get the budget blueprint through the House and on to the Senate, the GOP can't lose more than 20 votes.
And that's not all. Besides the specific instructions for spending cuts under the reconciliation process, the blueprint also includes a less fleshed-out but far more sweeping vision of deeper reductions: More than $4 trillion cut from the major welfare programs over the next decade, plus another $1.3 trillion out of non-defense discretionary spending. In fact, the blueprint would attempt to repeat TrumpCare's brutal cuts to the Medicaid program specifically. And by 2027, it would reduce non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy since before the Great Depression.
Of course, Republicans would spare the military the knife.
To say this budget vision would be devastating to American society is a wild understatement. It would take the class warfare of TrumpCare — waged against the poor on behalf of the rich — and crank it up to 11. "This is not a fiscal blueprint that will aid struggling families, bolster communities left behind, or help more Americans have a shot at the American dream," lamented Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It’s a blueprint that asks the most from those who have the least and would leave us a coarser nation and one less prepared for future economic challenges."
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, the Republican Party is quickly proving itself certifiable.