Congressional Republicans are set on budget-busting tax cuts, but they don’t want responsibility for the resulting red ink. Instead, the House — to be followed soon by the Senate — has adopted a rule that forces the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation to favorably-alter economic projections of Republican policies based on nothing more than their own ‘Laffer Curve’ voodoo. It’s a magical budget unicorn from the ‘party of personal responsibility.’
The move toward “dynamic scoring,” as the approach to gauging the budgetary effect of tax and spending changes is known, was part of a rules package passed on a 234-172 party-line vote as the Republican-controlled Congress began its work.
The change, which applies only to House bills for now, requires that more macroeconomic effects be taken into account when analyzing “major legislation” and its estimated cost estimates, work done by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Republicans say the CBO’s and JCT’s current estimating methods fail to reflect government revenues generated when tax cuts or other legislative changes boost economic growth.
As many times as we have heard Republicans make the same tired argument that the federal budget is somehow just like your family’s checkbook, this is an amazingly irresponsible turn. Families don’t write out checks based on their most optimistic projections, they do it according to the limits of their actual paydays. Of course, the federal budget doesn’t work at all like a giant household, nor have tax cuts ever boosted the economy or job growth like direct federal spending does. But these are exactly the sort of empirical, evidence-based, scientific conclusions that Republicans don’t want Americans to make, and so they mandate ‘fuzzy math.’
We should not underestimate the influence of Paul Ryan (R-WI) in this development, since he’s always been the House Republican point man for austerity and budget-busting. Writing in 2011, economist Paul Krugman wrote that Ryan’s budget proposal at the time was “a strange combination of cruelty and insanely wishful thinking” which contained at least three magical unicorns:
First, the plan assumes that tax cuts will set off a literally unprecedented boom. […] Ryan is claiming that unemployment will plunge right away; that by 2015 it will be down to the levels at the peak of the 1990s boom (and far below anything achieved under the sainted Ronald Reagan); and that by 2021 it will be below 3 percent, a level we haven’t seen in more than half a century. […] (A) typical senior would end up spending more than twice as much of his or her own income on health care as under current law. […] (T)he biggest source of supposed savings in the plan isn’t actually health care, it’s an assumption that federal spending on everything except health and Social Security can somehow be squeezed, as a percent of GDP, to a small fraction of current levels.
Ryan has long been the biggest cheerleader for ‘dynamic scoring’ in Congress, but he started championing the issue again before the election, telling POLITICO in September that “tax reform” will be a priority of his leadership in the House Ways and Means Committee. ‘Dynamic scoring’ — i.e., flagrantly lying to himself and America — is a terrible way to plug the very real holes in Ryan’s theoretical reform plan, but it is the only way to do so, because none of the methods which use actual math can work.
This is the new standard, not the outlier. Conservatism has descended into denialism and negation; we are the American asylum, while they are the lunatics in charge of us all.