March 20, 2019
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The easiest deficit reduction strategy for the GOP? Abandon their tax bill.

Ting Shen | Xinhua | Zuma Press | TNS
Ting Shen | Xinhua | Zuma Press | TNS
House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses a news conference after the House passed a tax cut plan on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 2017.

The tax code changes making their way through Congress will likely add at least $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the coming decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But that hasn’t stopped most Republicans — many of whom have labeled themselves deficit hawks — from endorsing it.

For them, the budget hole the tax bill expands can be addressed through “entitlement reform.”

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” House Speaker Paul Ryan recently told radio host Ross Kaminsky. “Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”

So, after inflating the deficit with a fiscally irresponsible tax plan with benefits — especially in the long term — that accrue to upper-income taxpayers, and doing so without any compelling economic rationale or any reasonable expectation of economic benefits, the GOP’s plan is to address the major “drivers of our debt” without acknowledging that their tax plan has become one of them.

While Ryan speaks of health care entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid, one of the first areas of GOP focus is anti-poverty programs that help people who couldn’t even dream of benefiting from the Republican tax package. According to The Washington Post, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are preparing to home in on what they’re calling “welfare reform” next year.

One proposal likely to be at the center of the discussion would subject more food stamp recipients to work requirements in order to continue receiving benefits. While proponents tout the poverty-reduction potential of work requirements attached to food stamps — and cite Maine’s food stamp work requirements implemented under Gov. Paul LePage as a success and a model — they’re only successful if the sole measure of success is cutting the number of people who receive benefits.

After LePage’s food stamp work requirements took effect, most of the adults who were no longer receiving food stamps remained poor and without work. The only discernible effect from the work requirement policy was that they now lacked the food stamp benefits they used to buy food.

The bill under consideration by GOP leaders would also cut federal assistance for subsidized housing.

So, while changing the tax code to benefit the upper end of the income spectrum, without any sign that the benefits will trickle down, Republicans’ “welfare reform” plans would simply make life harder for those at the bottom.

Those changes wouldn’t even help Republicans much in addressing their rediscovered concern about the federal debt.

A budget outline released by the Trump administration in May touted proposals to cut from even more programs that help low-income people. The administration planned to cut more than $2 billion each year from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides small amounts of cash assistance to poor families with children; $4 billion a year from the earned income and child tax credits; and more than $19 billion a year from spending on food stamps.

The administration said its “Reform the Welfare System” policy changes would reduce spending by $274 billion over 10 years — not even counteracting a fifth of the tax bill’s impact on the federal deficit.

There’s an easier way to trim that amount and more from the deficit — abandoning the push to pass an irresponsible, unneeded and inequitable tax bill.

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