ChrisWeigant.com

How About Some "Regular Order" On Taxes, GOP?

[ Posted Thursday, September 28th, 2017 – 17:07 PDT ]

There's an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, pretty soon every problem starts to resemble a nail. Which brings us to the subject of Republicans and tax cuts, of course. For approximately the past 35 years or so, there has been no problem the GOP doesn't think can be fixed with a good old fashioned gigantic tax cut, mostly for the wealthiest Americans. Even their recent failed efforts on "repeal and replace Obamacare" were mostly just an excuse to slash taxes on the wealthy. Now that that's over with (for now, at least), Republicans no longer have to even pretend to have any other goal than slashing taxes on the well-off. But perhaps the process will improve. And then again, perhaps that is overly optimistic.

John McCain is right. That's a rare sentence for me to type, but McCain had every reason to be outraged over the process (if you can even call it that) that the Republican leadership has used for the entire year, most notably on healthcare. This process involves no hearings, no congressional committees, no experts, no C.B.O. scores (if possible), not a shred or hint of bipartisanship, and even rampant secrecy among the Republican caucus right up to the last minute. A small group of Republicans retreats to a back room and hammers out a bill. Then this is presented as a do-or-die effort to the rest of the Republicans in Congress. Within hours, a floor vote is called, with little if any chance to amend the bill's text. The entire process could be summed up as "take it or leave it," in fact. McCain decried this lack of (as he puts it) "regular order" while explaining why he was voting "No." Congress isn't supposed to work this way, he insisted. And, again, he is right.

Congressional Republican leaders, together with the White House, just announced their tax-cutting plans. Kind of. Trump's first foray into a tax plan earlier this year contained fewer than 200 words, and precious few actual numbers. The new one is slightly more detailed, weighing in at nine whole pages. But it still is only half a plan, at best, because they left all of the hard decisions "to Congress." They used hard numbers for how taxes will be cut, but few numbers or details at all on what loopholes would be closed or any other changes that taxpayers might not like. This is the "all ice cream, no broccoli" tax plan, in other words.

This is a craven act of politics, it cannot be denied, but it also means that some sort of regular order is going to have to emerge if the GOP wants to make any progress on the idea. What should happen is the responsible committees in both the House and Senate should sit down and start putting real numbers on paper. Hard choices will be required during this process. Fights may break out among the Republican caucus, which (on taxes) has distinct groups within it pushing for widely different goals. But these fights are necessary and actually a good thing in general, because this is how legislation is supposed to get written. By having these fights in the committees, it avoids last-minute defections on the final floor vote, which have so far killed all their attempts at healthcare reform.

The process is healthy for the public, as well. In committee hearings, experts should be called to share their knowledge and beliefs about what should be done on taxes. Democrats should have the ability to call their experts, to give a different perspective on things to the committee. This allows the public (whatever portion is actually interested in the process) to learn the pros and cons of varying ideas as well. Congress and the entire country could have an actual informed debate over specific tax issues.

This would also allow Democrats to shine the spotlight of shame on the worst aspects of the Republican plan. There are plenty of these to choose from, and public pushback against the worst of them may cause Republican support to waver. This could make any resulting bill a lot better than the initial proposal.

This is all pretty rosy-tinted, I admit. If Republicans do coalesce around a final bill, it's likely to be pretty odious, even if Democrats do manage to strip the worst provisions out in committee. But at least there will have been a conversation before the fact, with enough time to get the public involved.

Donald Trump, of course, isn't going to care what is in any final bill. I say this for two reasons: the first is that in general he just doesn't care about any legislative details at all, and the second is that he is now desperate for anything he can call a legislative "win." It's been nine solid months, and he's got nothing yet to show for his presidency from Congress, unless you count the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice.

But the first reason is even more important. Trump really doesn't care what's in any bill that appears before him. He didn't care what was in any of the "repeal and replace" bills, after all. The White House could only agree with Republican leaders on a nine-page summary, after working on it all year. The last time one of these "once in a generation" tax reform bills was passed, back in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan's White House sent Congress a 461-page plan. At the beginning of the process. We're never going to see a 461-page plan from Trump on anything.

Republicans have learned (one would hope) that the process of jamming unread bills through in the dark of night does not work. They're still incredibly optimistic on how quickly they'll be able to come up with a final bill, talking about finishing it up "by the end of the year." Of course, they've blown several deadlines already (the tax cuts were initially supposed to have passed before the August congressional break), and they've got a whole lot else on their plate in December. But tax cuts, unlike the budget or the debt ceiling, have no built-in deadline on the calendar. So everything that does have a hard deadline will quite likely become higher priority, which could easily push tax cuts into next year.

Still, even planning three months for tax cuts is a step in the right direction for the GOP, and a step away from the plan they've been using: "We've gotta vote by midnight tonight or we all turn into a pumpkin!" Three months (assuming they'll meet their self-imposed deadline) is enough time for the public to learn the details of the plan, and for the public to weigh in on various aspects of it. It is also time enough for the Congressional Budget Office to do their work as well -- on multiple drafts, if need be. This will provide some hard evidence for the claims on both sides of the issue.

I am not totally Pollyannaish in my outlook, though. In any legislative process (especially one as short as three months, for such wide-ranging legislation) there will doubtlessly be a frenzy at the end with last-minute changes that "don't have time for a C.B.O. score." Whatever bill Republicans can agree on is going to be pretty downright hideous, that's almost a given, even if Democrats have managed to whittle the worst bits off. Even following regular order in no way guarantees a decent outcome, to put it another way.

But my real sense of optimism comes from the reality that none of this is in any way a done deal. Republicans are going to have to agree among themselves, which (so far) they have been notably inept at accomplishing. Tax cuts are more flexible than other issues -- there are a lot of moving parts that can be adjusted to convince wavering factions, in other words -- so the GOP may in fact be able to agree on something in the end. But then again, they may not. So far the saving grace of the Trump presidency has been the rampant incompetence from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump's incompetence is legendary, of course, but the Republican Congress is almost as bad. So maybe they'll prove incapable of even agreeing on what is supposed to be the one guiding principle of conservatism: cutting rich folks' taxes. One can always hope.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

19 Comments on “How About Some "Regular Order" On Taxes, GOP?”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat!"

    "Aw, that trick never works!"

    I like your Pollyannaish optimism. I would certainly feel more confident about the nation's future under its new permanent Republican majority if this Congress actually used its regular order and procedures to drive through one of its most cherished platform promises.

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    I'm glad you are in favor of giving a different perspective on things to allow the public to learn the pros and cons of varying ideas and have an actual informed debate about varying issues.

    I hope you will soon apply this wise approach to campaign financing and present all perspectives and approaches.

    While I will not try to give you orders- I will repeat my regular request.

    Since John M made a Rocky reference, I can't resist.

    If you don't meet my request I may have to nominate you for an honorary degree from Whatsamatta U. :D

  3. [3] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Oh.

    And hopefully you will do it before the fact with enough time to get the public involved so it can be effective in the 2018 elections- which would have to be almost immediately.

    How about an October surprise in a year without a federal election for a change?

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    CW,

    The problem is that most Republicans have never actually worked to pass legislation during their time in Congress; they only know how to obstruct legislation from passing!

    The House has a Speaker that entered Congress right when the GOP began their "Party of NO!" campaign against our country. Those Tea Party-poopers were elected running campaigns promising to never compromise on any issue, and they still believe that is how they should act in Congress.

    History will not look back on this period of governing very fondly, I predict!

  5. [5] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    CW,

    The problem is that most Republicans have never actually worked to pass legislation during their time in Congress; they only know how to obstruct legislation from passing!

    The House has a Speaker that entered Congress right when the GOP began their "Party of NO!" campaign against our country. Those Tea Party-poopers were elected running campaigns promising to never compromise on any issue, and they still believe that is how they should act in Congress.

    History will not look back on this period of governing very fondly, I predict!

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Republicans are sowing the seeds of the next recession. National pump and dump.

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    BBC is reporting Jared Kushner is registered to vote as a women. I'm going to put the least duplicitous slant on this storry. Go for it honey!

  8. [8] 
    John M wrote:

    Republicans actually have TWO problems trying to pass ANY tax cut legislation:

    1.) In order for Republicans to move any tax cut through Congress without ANY Democratic support, they would have to try to go through reconciliation, a budget process that would allow Senate Republicans to pass a bill with just 51 votes -- (Republicans control 52 seats in the chamber). The only caveat: The tax bill would not qualify for a simple majority vote if it adds to deficits beyond 10 years. Also, after 10 years, any tax cut passed through reconciliation automatically elapses and expires, unless it is specifically renewed at that time, in order words, it's only TEMPORARY anyway. (Think of the fight over Obama renewing the Bush tax cuts.) The current Republican proposal offers a significant corporate rate cut (in this case, from the current level of 35% to 20%, which House Republicans have proposed) for just three years which would result in deficit increase after 10 years. In other words, as it currently stands, it does NOT qualify for the reconciliation process.

    2.) The alternative, is to pass tax cut legislation through REGULAR ORDER, which requires SIXTY ( 60 ) votes in the Senate in order to pass and be approved because of the filibuster rule, and therefore needs significant Democratic support. Mitch McConnell has already stated that he is opposed to and against doing away with the filibuster and the 60 vote requirement for regular legislation, because he knows once that happens, there is no going back and it would come back to bite Republicans whenever they lose their majority in the Senate again. However, Republicans did pull the trigger on the nuclear option with the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, so who knows?

  9. [9] 
    John M wrote:

    Also, according to the CBO’s most modest analysis, excluding the effect of having to pay interest on extra debt, the 2001 Bush tax cuts contributed more than a trillion dollars to the national debt in their first 10 years, and according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Bush tax cuts will be responsible for 40 percent of our national debt by 2019.

    When HuffPost interviewed conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin about the deficit impact of tax cuts on Thursday, the former CBO director was emphatic: Tax cuts do not pay for themselves. “We have all sorts of evidence to that effect,” Holtz-Eakin said. “I don’t think there’s any evidence, over any interval, that they pay for themselves. Over any sustained period, they don’t.”

    Also, former Ronald Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett, who helped write Reagan’s tax cuts and literally wrote the book on Reaganomics, published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday titled: “I helped create the GOP tax myth. Trump is wrong: Tax cuts don’t equal growth.” Bartlett said most Republican rhetoric about tax cutting is “wishful thinking.” “In reality,” Bartlett wrote, “there’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.”

  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:

    WHO'S LEAVING THIS WEEK?

    Goodbye HHS Secretary Tom Price. You can buy your own one-way commercial airline ticket home to Georgia. You're living on your own dime now... hypocrite.

  11. [11] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: "We've gotta vote by midnight tonight or we all turn into a pumpkin!"

    A carriage turns back into a pumpkin, and people revert back to rodents... so no perceptible change for the majority of Congress.

  12. [12] 
    dsws wrote:

    The only caveat: The tax bill would not qualify for a simple majority vote if it adds to deficits beyond 10 years.

    Two easy solutions. First option: rule from the chair that the Club For Growth's deficit projections should be used instead of the CBO projections. Second option: have the law say that, starting ten years after the passage of the bill, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the DoD divert all of their budget to deficit reduction. The tax cut is permanent, and a subsequent Congress has to figure out how to fund it instead (spoiler: by raising taxes on the middle class and/or by running an even bigger deficit).

  13. [13] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Gary Cohn said this about the tax cut:

    "a typical family earning $100,000 with two children that has been a standard deductor ... can expect a tax cut of about $1,000....If we allow a family to keep another thousand dollars of their income, what does that mean? They can renovate their kitchen, they can buy a new car, they can take their family on vacation, they can increase their lifestyle."

    I'm sure that I don't have to point out how insanely out-of-touch that is, but it's adding to a narrative about how out-of-touch this entire administration, and by extension the GOP, is.

  14. [14] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW

    Somewhere, in a galaxy far far away, there are still Republicans who are deficit hawks.

    They didn't appear during the Senate vote on increased military spending supported by Not A Penny More* Democrats, but maybe they'll show up this time.
    * excluding the 8 trillion more pennies for war they helped approve

    A

  15. [15] 
    altohone wrote:

    Balthy
    13

    Cohn knows he and his bankster buddies cash in when people put down modest down payments and finance the rest... so maybe he's just selling the idea of how great reckless spending is for people instead of completely ignorant about what things cost?

    If it's the latter, perhaps I will send him an offer to renovate his kitchen if he pays the $1000 up front.
    There's an appliance guy at the flea market near my house where I can get all brand newish appliances and still have enough money left over to slap a coat of paint on his cabinets and floor.

    A

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:

    Balthasar
    13

    If we allow a family to keep another thousand dollars of their income, what does that mean?

    If income of $100,000 nets you a $1,000 tax cut, that means you're getting to keep 1% more of your income and amounts to about $83 a month. If these idiots think a 1% "raise" is a big deal, they are actually dumber than they think we are. Pathetic.

    They can renovate their kitchen, they can buy a new car, they can take their family on vacation, they can increase their lifestyle.

    Smith Family, you just got a $1,000 tax cut from your Uncle Sam. What are you going to do now?

    We're going to Disney World... for 1 whole day. :(

    A family with $100,000 annual income in Texas (and probably the majority of America) isn't going to "increase their lifestyle" because they get to keep another 1% of their 6-figure income. *LOL*

  17. [17] 
    altohone wrote:

    15
    part two

    Heck, I'll even throw in my rock solid guarantee* as an unlicensed contractor that the appliances will come in either nearly matching colors OR have almost fully functional features.

    A

    * Buyer waives all right to judicial review and will submit any contract disputes to binding arbitration using an arbitrator of my choice.

  18. [18] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    In the liberal lexicon the phrase "tax cuts for the rich" has evolved into a single word, kinda like "damnyankees" did for southerners after they lost the war. And there is an economic as well as a semantic justification for that evolution.

    When you structure a tax collection system the way the U.S. income tax system was structured, poor people are essentially exempted from the system.

    A quick visit to the IRS website reveals that the bottom 50% of all income tax payers pay just a whisker over 2% of all the income taxes collected.

    Under those rules, it becomes inevitable that tax cuts only benefit the "rich", because the poor never paid any taxes to begin with, which means there ARE no other types of tax cuts OTHER than "taxcutsfortherich".

  19. [19] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    C. R. Stucki -

    Welcome to the site!

    Your first comment was held for moderation, but from now on you should be able to post comments instantly. Just don't post more than one link per comment, as multilink comments are automatically held for moderation. And (my apologies for the delay), as you can see, this sometimes takes a while for me to get to.

    As for your comment, you have a point. As Willie Sutton said about banks, "that's where the money is."

    Perhaps liberals wouldn't react in such a knee-jerk fashion if the GOP would be honest, instead of lying about "tax cuts targeted to the middle class" and "wealthy people won't get a tax cut." Pretty much everything Trump's said about it is nonsense, for instance.

    If the GOP just came out and admitted "these tax cuts are for people who make more in a day than you'll make all year long," then I promise I will praise them for being so honest, for once.

    How's that?

    :-)

    -CW

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