Heritage: House Republicans Cave on Tax Increases and Punt Entitlements

Heritage: House Republicans Cave on Tax Increases and Punt Entitlements

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Originally posted at The Foundry by Amy Payne

When President Obama put forth his first offer on the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “You can’t be serious.” We could say the same thing to the Speaker after his counteroffer yesterday.

In a letter signed by House Republican leadership, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), Boehner offered to raise taxes by $800 billion and cut spending by $1.4 trillion, with no substantive reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving U.S. spending and debt.

Heritage’s Alison Fraser, director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, and J.D. Foster, the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy, quickly responded that “the Republican counteroffer, to the extent it can be interpreted from the hazy details now available, is a dud. It is utterly unacceptable. It is bad policy, bad economics.”

Boehner’s letter to the President actually said that the Republicans were not going to make their more serious proposal, which has already passed the House.

If we were to take your Administration’s proposal at face value, then we would counter with the House-passed Budget Resolution. It assumes an overhaul of our tax code with revenue remaining at historically normal levels and proposes structural reforms to preserve and protect the Nation’s entitlement programs, ensuring they are sustainable for the long-term rather than continuing to grow out of control.

But, they said, “we recognize it would be counterproductive to publicly or privately propose entitlement reforms that you and the leaders of your party appear unwilling to support in the near-term.”

This is precisely the time for laying out bold reforms, showing the nation the principles, vision and policies conservatives share to dig out of this budget mess, today and for the long term. Instead, the leadership pointed to a plan they said was suggested by Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of President Obama’s debt commission and formerly Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff. It raises taxes, but not by raising tax rates—instead, by lowering the amount or number of tax deductions or exemptions available.

This misses the point of the tax reform America really needs, said Fraser and Foster:

While preferable in general to raising tax rates, this proposal largely dooms future efforts at tax reform based on the sound principle of broadening the tax base to lower the rates. Instead, this proposal would broaden the base, not to lower rates, but to raise revenues. So much for improved economic growth.

Essentially, it appears the Republican leadership caved on raising taxes and first steps toward fundamental entitlement reforms that are desperately needed to keep Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid going. To be sure, the Boehner letter is short on details. But, as Fraser and Foster put it, “Beyond disappointing, the House Republican counteroffer appears at best to suggest incremental tweaks to these programs. Without real entitlement reform—not just spending cuts—we will never fix the underlying problem.”

Not only would this be the right course to take, but Americans polled just after the election have these priorities more in order than the President and Congress.

Just a few days after the election, Gallup asked people to rank a list of 12 issues by importance for the President’s second term. Restoring “a strong economy and job market” was No. 1, with entitlement reform—“take major steps to ensure the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare”—No. 2. “Make major cuts in federal spending” was No. 6 on the list, while raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year was way down the list at priority No. 10.

Now is the time for leaders to get serious. That means serious entitlement reforms that will deliver real savings and improve the programs. The President and House Republicans should both start over and work together toward solutions the nation truly needs.