The GOP’s Debt Ceiling Debacle
July 11, 2011, 5:00am

The deadline to raise the debt ceiling is fast approaching. Come Aug. 2, the U.S. economy could face drastic budget cuts, a 2.3 percent drop in GDP, a disruption of Social Security, Medicare, and military payments, a “double-dip contraction” in an already fragile housing market, a plummeting credit score, an increase in unemployment, and an overall economic regression if a debt deal isn’t reached. Apparently boxed in by his own party’s intransigence, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walked away from a “grand bargain” offered in the latest talks with President Obama. Though the deal reportedly included the Republican demand for unpopular “sharp cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” Boehner torpedoed the deal over the White House’s insistence on larger, more balanced deficit reduction package that included $800 billion in new revenues to accompany the spending cuts. The GOP’s refusal to even consider eliminating tax breaks is all the more stunning given the excessive number of frivolous loopholes for the wealthy in the federal tax code. While the elimination of such loopholes seem obvious to most Americans, Republican lawmakers remain vigilant in their protection of the wealthy and are exposing their political motivations behind policies that will jeopardize our economic future.

RESPONSIBLE REVENUE: Addressing our long-term deficit is both necessary and possible with a responsible approach. While the GOP’s slash-and-burn mentality toward spending unduly targets the most vulnerable populations and the middle class, the Center For American Progress’s Seth Hanlon and Michael Linden note that there’s more than $1 trillion of wasteful spending hidden in the federal tax code which, if cut, is far less harmful to the economy than gouging the social safety net. For instance, the oil and gas industry — whose top five companies made $32 billion in the first quarter of 2011 alone — “stands to collect about $4 billion in tax-code subsidies in the coming year and nearly $40 billion over the rest of the decade.” The “carried-interest loophole” allows hedge fund managers to treat payment for their services as capital gains, which is subject to a 15 percent tax rate rather than a 35 percent tax rate. Eliminating this “intellectually vacuous” loophole would, by one estimate, raise more than $4 billion just from the 25 wealthiest hedge fund managers and save taxpayers more than $20 billion over the next 10 years. Other blatantly wasteful tax breaks, including ones for the horse breeders, for corporate meals and entertainment, for vacation homes and yachts, and for corporate jets, would save over $12 billion in 2012 alone and more than $75 billion over the next 10 years. On top of that, Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) noted last week that if Congress ended the Bush tax cuts for those who earn above $1 million a year, taxpayers would save an additional $22 billion a year.

A PATHETIC POINT OF VIEW: In the series of debt discussions, Obama presented many of these revenue raisers to Republican lawmakers as an opportunity to accomplish one of their main talking points of reining in wasteful spending. However, the GOP is drawing a hard line against the elimination of any unfair tax break and now will entertain smaller cuts to avoid touching tax breaks. Indeed, Boehner’s willingness to even consider revenue raisers was met with serious backlash from within his party. One veteran Republican lawmaker noted it as “another example of the speaker almost slipping beyond the will of the GOP conference.” Even his right-hand man Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who walked away from another debt discussion over tax increases, made it known that he “was plainly not with Boehner” in considering “tax hikes.” Both he and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated they’d only consider closing tax loopholes in exchange for new tax cuts. While Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) considered the idea of ending a tax cuts for millionaires “rather pathetic,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) said, if given a choice, he would rather increase the deficit than increase the tax rate on the richest Americans. Tea Party Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is leading a growing number of GOP lawmakers who are willing to allow “serious disruptions” — also known as a comprehensive economic meltdown — to protect the wealthy. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), however, took it one step further and actually called to lower the debt ceiling, a move that would eviscerate his own party’s budget plan.

FANATIC FRINGE: The GOP’s stubborn myopia stands in stark contrast to common sense. Even conservatives are beginning to view such recalcitrance with exasperation. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks viewed the GOP’s rejection of the “no-brainer” elimination of tax breaks as proof that the GOP “may no longer be a normal party” but a movement of “fanatic[s]” with a “sacred fixation” on tax cuts. Former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson surveyed the GOP’s position and declared, “We’re at 15 percent revenue, and historically it’s been closer to 20 percent.” He added, “We’ve never had a war without a tax, and now we’ve got two…Absolute bullshit.” Hedge fund manager and Ryan’s dinner companion Cliff Asness stated that “if taxes have to go up, let it be on me first.” In a recent poll, an overwhelming 81 percent of Americans approve a surtax on millionaires, with 68 percent supporting an end to the Bush tax cuts on those making over $250,000. 56 percent believe that corporations are not paying their fair share in taxes. The degree to which GOP lawmakers are ignoring both common sense deficit solutions and the will of the American people begs explanation. Brooks attributed the intransigence to the burgeoning “psychological protest” faction in the party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, sees the party’s motivation during the debt ceiling negotiations as quite simple. For him and “every active Republican in the country,” the “single most important political goal” is to make Obama a one-term president.

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