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GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget

GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget

Six months after passing a tax bill that is projected to blow a $1.9 trillion hole in the deficit, Republicans on the House Budget Committee are scrambling to regain fiscal credibility with their 2019 spending plan. 

The plan would cut over $8 trillion in spending over the course of a decade, according to estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, including $5.4 trillion in mandatory spending. 

“When you’re asked what keeps you up at night, there is nothing that weighs more heavily on me than our fiscal situation,” committee member Rep. Jodey ArringtonJodey Cook ArringtonGOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget Freshman lawmakers introduce congressional term limits proposal Younger lawmakers ignite new push for term limits MORE (R-Texas) said this week. 

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Committee Chairman Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackBudget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending Senate chairman urges move to two-year budgetary process On The Money: Senate passes first 2019 spending bill | Trump hits Harley-Davidson in tariffs fight | Mnuchin rips report of investment restrictions | Justices side with American Express in antitrust case MORE (R-Ark.) called the nation’s debt “the largest looming shadow of doubt” on America’s future.

“The federal government is spending far more than it takes in, largely due to the unchecked growth of mandatory, or autopilot, spending,” he said. 

Republicans, who have traditionally defined themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility, have been playing defense on the issue. They’ve faced accusations from Democrats that they’ve mortgaged America’s future for the sake of the tax cut.

“They may be trying to, in some way, insulate themselves from attacks that they’ve blown a hole in the deficit through spending and taxes,” suggested Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Top House Budget Dem warns deficits, debt must be addressed soon Budget hawk warns 'Tax Cuts 2.0.' would balloon debt MORE (D-Ky.), the ranking member on the committee.

Democrats say the GOP borrowed money to fund a tax cut for the wealthy, and is now targeting Medicare, Medicaid and other programs to lower deficits.

“83 percent of the advantage of the [tax] bill going to the top 1 percent, almost a trillion and a half dollars plus interest given to corporate America. And who pays the price? America's seniors,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP strategist says Trump could want border wall fight to continue to excite base McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' MORE (D-Calif.) said at a recent press conference.

The tax law was not meant to cost more than $1.5 trillion, but in April the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated it would add nearly $1.9 trillion to the deficit instead.

Republicans such as retiring Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Dem Senator: Congress will act on death of Saudi journalist Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (Tenn.) did not take the news well.

“If it ends up costing what has been laid out here, it could well be one of the worst votes I’ve made,” Corker said at the time.

Despite a slew of projections showing that the tax law will add to the nation’s debts, some congressional Republicans along with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinIMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Trump: Saudi Arabia another case of 'guilty until proven innocent' MORE have insisted that the law will eventually pay for itself, or even end up reducing deficits.

“The tax cut itself, the bill, the small bill, may not pay for it, but the Republican agenda will, and I find this is very important to the budget discussion because no, because — this was never reported — but the federal coffers are overflowing,” Rep. David BratDavid Alan BratThe animating forces behind the Democratic Party are true, radical leftists GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget House conservatives prepared to defer to Senate tax plan MORE (R-Va.) said this week.

Earlier this month, the CBO estimated that in the first eight months of fiscal 2018, the budget deficit surged $97 billion in comparison with the same period in 2017, reaching $530 billion.

Brat accused the mainstream media of putting too much focus on the tax-cut law’s effect on the deficit, and not enough on the government-funding bill approved earlier this year as part of a bipartisan deal with the Trump administration. It added a combined $300 billion to spending caps for 2018 and 2019. The overall spending bill amounted to $1.3 trillion. 

“The Republican tax cuts got plenty of crap, when they end up being paid for,” Brat insisted.

CBO did warn that if spending continued on the path implied by the new budget caps and certain cuts in the tax law were not allowed to expire, deficits would explode to 7.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2028.

Despite the budget’s blueprint for slashing trillions in spending, watchdogs noted that in practice, it only called for $302 billion to be cut through budget reconciliation.

Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockHouse committee votes to relax Endangered Species Act Election Countdown: Takeaways from too-close-to-call Ohio special election | Trump endorsements cement power but come with risks | GOP leader's race now rated as 'toss-up' | Record numbers of women nominated | Latino candidates get prominent role in 2020 GOP scrambles to regain fiscal credibility with House budget MORE (R-Calif.) said that without teeth, the budget document’s deficit-reduction plans were no more than “happy thoughts and pixie dust.”

Others were skeptical as well.

“Most of these savings come from rosy economic assumptions or unreconciled and often unrealistic spending cuts,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“While we certainly support the effort to achieve substantial deficit reduction, Congress’s credibility is compromised given that tax cuts and spending hikes over this past year are responsible for $450 billion of next year’s nearly trillion-dollar deficit, and will add at least $2.4 trillion to the debt over a decade,” she added.

Yarmuth seemed to agree that the budget document would not be making a significant difference for the nation’s spending outlook one way or another, given that Congress had already signed onto new spending caps.

“It’s a moot point, essentially. Unless they can actually do reconciliation instructions, doing a budget resolution doesn’t mean anything,” he said.