A Washington Post editorial earlier this week declared, "Senate Republicans, committed as they are to preventing the debt from mounting further, can't approve an extension of unemployment benefits because it would cost $35 billion. But they are untroubled by the notion of digging the hole $678 billion deeper by extending President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."
Well, that's a little unfair, because Congressional Republicans actually want to increase the deficit by a full trillion dollars by extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
The $678 billion is just the cost of making the Bush income tax cuts for the richest two percent of taxpayers permanent. (President Obama and Republicans agree that they should be made permanent for the other 98 percent.) Republicans have also been pushing for years to make permanent Bush's repeal of the federal tax on the estates of millionaires. This would add over $300 billion during the first decade when its costs would be fully felt, compared to Obama's more restrained (but still awfully generous) proposal to cut the estate tax.
As the Post explains, Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl recently said that the cost of new spending should be offset, but the revenue loss from tax cuts should not. According to Talking Points Memo, Republican Senator Judd Gregg explained that new government spending is "growing the government" and therefore should be offset, presumably with cuts in spending, but tax cuts should not be offset.
Of course, deficit-financed tax cuts have to be paid for one day, and that could be done through tax hikes. Congressional Republicans might believe that Congress will be forced to shrink government when revenues decline, but that obviously didn't happen after the Bush tax cuts were enacted.
Senate Republicans Bring Back Supply-Side Economics
But the real prize for articulating their position goes to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. When asked about this, he replied, "That's been the majority Republican view for some time, that there's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy."
That's right. The most powerful Republican alive believes that when Congress cuts taxes, the result is that revenues increase.
This is the extreme version of "supply-side economics." The basic idea behind this school of thought is that tax cuts can change incentives to invest so much that they result in huge economic growth, which results in increased incomes and therefore increased income tax payments that more than make up for the loss of tax revenue resulting directly from the tax cuts.
CTJ has already explored in great detail the empirical evidence against this idea, the people who promote it anyway, and the fiscal disasters that have resulted.
But don't take our word for it. President George W. Bush's own Treasury also concluded that tax cuts do not increase revenue or come close to paying for themselves.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin Contradicts McConnell
So have the Republicans obtained some new support for supply-side economics since then? Apparently not, since the Republican witness at Wednesday's Finance Committee hearing on the Bush tax cuts conceded that they did not pay for themselves.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and an adviser to the presidential campaign of John McCain testified at the hearing in favor of making permanent all the Bush tax cuts (including those for the richest taxpayers). According to his written testimony (which he paraphrased during the hearing), making the tax cuts permanent would have a positive economic effect that would reduce the direct cost of the tax cuts by 22 percent.
We have no idea how he came to that figure. But Holtz-Eakin is the closest thing the Republicans have to a reasonable and credible economist who will promote their views. (Even though we think he's wrong about most of what he says, as we explained in the previous article.) Since Holtz-Eakin is the best economist the Republicans have on their side, one would think that Senator McConnell would get on the same page.