Bankrupting America, One Vote At A Time

by Hans Bader on January 16, 2013

in Economy, Politics as Usual, Stimulus to Nowhere, Zeitgeist

The liberal Senate earlier passed a bloated pork-filled monster of a bill labeled as “disaster” relief. There were hopes that the House would trim the size of the bill, but those hopes were dashed Tuesday, as the “House passed a $51 billion disaster relief” package almost as big as the Senate’s. “192 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted yes, while 179 Republicans and one Democrat voted no. The bill goes beyond disaster relief to include “$2 billion for the Federal Highway Administration to make improvements not related to the storm, as well as $16 billion in community development grants for nearly every state in the country.” Only a few amendments sponsored by GOP leaders to cut the bill’s cost even passed, such as “a provision to slash $150 million for a Regional Ocean Partnership grant and another to remove $9.8 million to rebuild sea walls off the coast of Connecticut.”

House leaders broke the Senate’s bill down into two bills — a $17 billion bill focused on disaster relief, and a $33 billion bill chock full of pork — but both passed, resulting in an overall price tag of $51 billion. House leaders should not have allowed a vote on the latter bill. As the progressive Daily Kos blog notes (while exulting in the passage of this pork-filled monstrosity), “Republicans have a longstanding informal rule that no legislation will come up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans support it. That rule—dubbed the Hastert Rule after former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert—is supposed to prevent outcomes like the one last night, where a united Democratic Party teams up with a divided GOP to pass legislation overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans. But last night they ignored the rule—and it was the second time they ignored it this year. The first time was on New Year’s Day, when 85 Republicans joined 172 Democrats in passing the tax cliff deal despite opposition from 151 Republicans.”

For several years, America has been running trillion-dollar deficits, driving the national debt up to $16 trillion. At the beginning of the year, Congress also increased the national debt by passing legislation to delay by two months the automatic spending cuts contained in the so-called Fiscal Cliff, and by extending the Bush tax cuts for all but higher-income households through the Fiscal Cliff deal. (While taxes rose on the wealthy, the revenue thereby raised was offset by revenue lost due to corporate welfare contained in the Fiscal Cliff deal, and due to additional revenue lost due to tax credits contained in the stimulus package that were renewed through the Fiscal Cliff deal.)

The Washington Examiner‘s Tim Carney calls it “tax hikes on the rich to pay for corporate welfare.” Carney writes, “During the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate, the White House justified raising taxes on the rich to ensure people ‘pay their fair share.’ But the beneficiaries were hardly the poor and dispossessed. Instead, President Obama raised taxes on the rich to fund corporate welfare, with General Electric likely the biggest winner.” Revenue raised by Obama’s income tax hikes on affluent individuals was offset by “special-interest business and energy tax credits he demanded” that “will reduce revenue by $65.3 billion, according to data from the Joint Committee on Taxation.” The fiscal cliff deal also contains a “marriage penalty” for upper-income households (since the maximum rate kicks in at $450,000 for married couples — that is, $225,000 for each spouse — versus $400,000 for singles), although it continues the Bush tax cuts and marriage-penalty relief for non-wealthy households (Bush’s 2001 tax cut legislation eliminated the longstanding marriage penalty in the tax code for many households, but did not succeed in doing so for all households).

The fiscal cliff deal delayed by two months the automatic budget cuts that had been slated to go into effect at the beginning of 2013 under a 2011 deal between congressional leaders and Obama (that 2011 deal raised the national debt limit in exchange for budget cuts later). Those budget cuts need to go into effect, all of them. Those automatic budget cuts are essential and economically vital. They will increase the size of the economy in the long run, in addition to reducing the staggering size of America’s national debt. Spending cuts have helped the economy in the past: America experienced an “economic boom” after slashing spending in 1946, and Canada’s economy boomed after it slashed spending in the 1990s. To get the deficit under control, we need to cut skyrocketing welfare spending, eliminate agricultural subsidies, trim unnecessarily high Pentagon spending, and reduce wasteful education spending.

We can cut military spending substantially without undermining national security. Byron York of The Washington Examiner identifies some examples here. The Cato Institute has identified billions in additional savings that can be made at the Pentagon.

As the Congressional Budget Office and the GAO noted earlier, while the fiscal cliff’s combination of budget cuts and tax increases would have shrunk the economy in the short-run (tax increases are no doubt painful), it would have increased the size of the economy in the medium and long run, since, by reducing the size of the national debt, and related debt-service costs.

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