On Day 1, House GOP Rigs The Rules For The Rich, Against The Disabled

Isaiah J. Poole

The House of Representatives wasted no time Tuesday in setting up schemes that are designed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

House Republicans approved on late Tuesday a resolution of operating rules that include several pretty outrageous provisions, such as an authorization to keep beating the dead horse of Benghazi, the effort to smear the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 Libya Embassy attack. But one of the most outrageous will allow Republicans to get away with claiming that tax cuts on the wealthy in effect defy gravity by increasing revenues and lowering deficits, thus making them easier to slip through Congress.

At the same time, a sentence in the rules resolution puts in jeopardy Social Security disability benefits for millions of people by deliberately making it harder for the government to cover their cost.

This from the Republican Party that just a couple of days ago Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said wanted to present itself as less “scary.” If you’re a corporation or a billionaire, you have nothing to fear. But if you happen to be too disabled to work, be afraid, be very afraid.

To smooth its tax-cutting, government-gutting agenda, the House has mandated that its budget and tax referees, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, use something called “dynamic scoring” to measure the impact of tax cuts on the budget.

What Republicans want to do is to corrupt what has been for the most part nonideological budget analysis – sometimes the CBO and JCT come to conclusions that progressive lawmakers like, sometimes they don’t – with the presumption that tax cuts lead to economic growth, especially if those tax cuts are at the top end.

Congressional conservatives don’t want the public to hear that tax cuts reduce government revenue (and thus increase deficits) and don’t inexorably translate to economic growth that is broadly shared. Through the magic of “dynamic scoring” – what George H. W. Bush in a moment of clarity called “voodoo economics” – cutting taxes increases economic activity and thus even more government revenue.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has a thorough explanation of what’s wrong with dynamic scoring. The bottom line is it allows Republicans to present speculation, or even outright fiction, as budgetary fact, so that it can justify tax giveaways that otherwise would not pass muster.

Imagine on a national scale the disaster that is currently unfolding in Kansas, where archconservative Gov. Sam Brownback muscled through a series of top-end tax cuts that have backfired and are now leading to deep budget deficits. Brownback explicitly said that these tax cuts would pay for themselves. What we’re seeing in Kansas is the latest example of the failure of the conservative tax dogma that gave us the “Laffer Curve” of the 1970s, the trickle-down economics of the 1980s and the deficit-raising Bush tax cuts of the 2000s. And now House Republicans have empowered themselves to further impose the fiction on tax policy. It means we’ll have to push harder to make sure that the truth about Republican tax policy gets heard as conservatives and the media pass on the newly tainted assessments of the CBO and JCT as authoritative and factual.

Meanwhile, we highlighted last month the opportunity for Congress to make a modest temporary fix to ensure that the Social Security disability trust fund can pay full benefits to its recipients through 2016 and beyond. It would involve Congress allowing funds to move between the Social Security old-age retirement fund and the disability fund, which Congress has allowed 11 times since the late 1960s.

Without such a transfer, people on disability insurance would start seeing sharp cuts in their benefit checks starting sometime next year. Nonetheless, in an apparent response to opposition of groups such as the Heritage Foundation, House Republicans added a sentence to their operating rules that would make it harder for them to authorize such a transfer between the funds.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in a statement put his finger directly on what’s behind this move: “Republicans want to set the stage to cut benefits for seniors and disabled Americans.”

Disability insurance payments are in effect being held hostage for so-called conservative “reforms” that would make it harder for some people on disability to receive benefits and possibly cut benefits for future Social Security retirees.

With this as their opening gambit, it’s clear that conservatives in Congress have no intention of easing their assault on the pillars of economic security for working people – and their efforts to secure even more for the top 1 percent.

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