On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit will fall from $1 trillion this year to less than $300 billion over the next several years — but only if Congress can resist enacting budget-busting laws like another extension of the Bush tax cuts, which would more than double the projected deficit.
Budget experts have long known that our deficit would be largely under control if Congress would simply stop extending the Bush tax cuts. But this might be news to anyone who listens to lawmakers insisting that public services must be cut dramatically to balance the budget.
What these lawmakers really mean, but never say, is that public services would need to be slashed to pay for a further extension of the Bush tax cuts — despite the lack of any evidence that these tax cuts have helped America.
The CBO report shows that extending the Bush tax cuts through the next decade would cut revenues by $4.6 trillion over the next ten years, and cost an additional $0.8 trillion in interest payments on the national debt — thus adding a total of $5.4 trillion to the national debt!
In the face of these frightening numbers, Republicans in Congress want to extend all of the Bush tax cuts. The Democrats are not much better. President Obama has proposed to extend about 81 percent of the Bush tax cuts, and most Congressional Democrats have followed his lead.
Even organizations that have the ostensible purpose of promoting a balanced federal budget fail to see that Congress could help the budget situation dramatically by simply refusing to pass any more tax cuts. For example, take this statement about the CBO report from the Committee for a Responsible Budget:
The good news is that under current law assumptions, the debt would become more manageable in the medium term. The bad news is that these policy assumptions are politically unrealistic, suboptimal, and not a long-term fix.
Why would the so-called “Committee for a Responsible Budget” first acknowledge that the government will approach budget balance if Congress does nothing, and then insist that Congress has to pass laws that take us off that path? What’s so “suboptimal” about allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire?
Their argument is that the economy will suffer if the tax cuts expire at the end of this year. The Republicans in Congress make a much more extreme claim, which is that the economy will suffer if any portion of the tax cuts ever expires.
None of this is supported by evidence. Expiration of the Bush tax cuts would allow taxes to return to the levels in place at the end of the Clinton years. If anyone is worried about tax policies that are “suboptimal” for the economy, they should not fear the tax rates that existed during the boom years that Clinton presided over. If we need further short-term stimulus next year, then there are far better, fairer and less costly ways to achieve it.
Sometimes, lawmakers and others claim they worry that low- and middle-income people will suffer if they have to pay Clinton-era tax rates again.
This is absurd. A fact sheet from CTJ shows who would benefit from another extension of the Bush tax cuts. The folks who are struggling the most in America today, the poorest fifth of taxpayers, would receive just 1.1 percent of the tax cuts in 2013. The bottom three-fifths of taxpayers would receive just 13.4 percent of all the tax cuts.
On the other hand, the richest five percent of taxpayers would receive 47.2 percent of the tax cuts, and the richest one percent alone would receive 31.3 percent of the tax cuts.
It’s reasonable to argue that the parts of the Bush tax cuts that go to low-income Americans should be made permanent, because they help people who truly need help. These include, for example, the provisions that expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable part of the Child Tax Credit.
But low-income tax breaks represent only a small part of the cost of overall Bush tax cuts. So Congress could and should extend those parts of the tax cuts that go to people who need them without busting the budget. If Congress instead sends President Obama another bill extending all or most of the Bush tax cuts, then he should get out his veto pen.