Instead of tax cuts for the rich, we could literally fund anything else

Instead of tax cuts for the rich, we could literally fund anything else
© Greg Nash

It wasn’t so very long ago that then-Congressman, now-Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDem: Ex-lawmaker tried to pin me to elevator door and kiss me Two months later: Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, education or economy running again On Capitol Hill, few name names on sexual harassment MORE (R-Wis.) was censoriously lecturing us all about the dangers of the national debt. He stood in front of animated graphs pointing gravely at the rising lines on the screen.

He looked earnestly into the camera and implored us, begged us, even scolded us, to do something about it. Now, here we are, just a few short years later — with a different party in the White House — and all of a sudden, debt does not seem to cause the same concern to Mr. Ryan or the rest of his once-hawkish compatriots.

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What prompted his change of heart? Was it that Ryan finally accepted the argument that, with interest rates at historic lows, the debt was not exactly the pressing concern he made it out to be?

 

Or is it that Mr. Ryan looked at the remarkable progress we’ve made in slowing the growth of health-care costs, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, and decided the debt projections were likely overstating the size of the problem? Sadly, no. 

What seems to have changed Speaker Ryan’s mind, and the minds of a vast majority of his Republican colleagues in Congress, is their perceived opportunity to cut taxes dramatically for corporations and for very rich individuals.

Just last week, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives introduced a tax bill that would reduce federal tax revenue, and thus drive up the debt, by about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, with more than a third of that money — roughly $530 billion — flowing exclusively to the richest 1 percent of households.

Some of the supporters of this $1.5-trillion debt-financed tax bill are the very same members of Congress who insisted that a relief package for Hurricane Sandy — costing roughly 4 percent of what their current tax bill costs — be fully “offset” by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Similarly, many, including Congressman Ryan himself, objected to the extension of unemployment benefits in 2013 when the unemployment rate was still around 7 percent, on the grounds that it simply cost too much. That extension, by the way, was 1/60 the cost of the current tax bill.

If Republicans in Congress have now decided that it is okay to spend, spend, spend without regard for the deficit and debt, surely they can think of better things to do with $530 billion than giving it away to some of wealthiest people in the world. If they really can’t think of anything better, let me offer them some alternatives: 

These are just a few ideas. I’m quite sure that, given even a few milliseconds, most Americans could come up with dozens of additional ways to better spend $530 billion than simply doling it out to millionaires and multinational corporations in the form of tax breaks that they certainly don’t need.

The shameless hypocrisy of so many in the Republican congressional caucus is, of course, galling. After spending eight years railing against the evils of deficits, after blocking numerous important investments because we “couldn’t afford it” and after swearing time and again that debt was our No. 1 enemy, most Republican representatives have tossed their anti-deficit positions aside in the blink of an eye. That is galling, yes.

But perhaps even more galling is that, having thrown their fiscal caution to the wind and having decided that now, with a Republican in the White House, debt is no longer a concern, their best idea for spending hundreds of billions of dollars is to give it all to the rich. For that, they should be truly ashamed of themselves.

Michael Linden is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank. He's an adviser to the Not One Penny campaign, which is opposed to any Republican tax reform plan that lowers rates on corporations or the very wealthy.