From today’s New York Times:
A Republican requirement that Congress consider the full cost of major legislation threatened to derail the party’s $1.5 trillion tax rewrite last week. So lawmakers went on the offensive to discredit the agency performing the analysis.
In 2015, Republicans changed the budget rules in Congress so that official scorekeepers would be required to analyze the potential economic impact of major legislation when determining how it would affect federal revenues.
But on Thursday, hours before they were set to vote on the largest tax cut Congress has considered in years, Senate Republicans opened an assault on that scorekeeper, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and its analysis, which showed the Senate plan would not, as lawmakers contended, pay for itself but would add $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit.
Public statements and messaging documents obtained by The New York Times show a concerted push by Republican lawmakers to discredit a nonpartisan agency they had long praised. Party leaders circulated two pages of “response points” that declared “the substance, timing and growth assumptions of J.C.T.’s ‘dynamic’ score are suspect.” Among their arguments was that the joint committee was using “consistently wrong” growth models to assess the effect the tax cuts would have on hiring, wages and investment.
The Republican response points go after revenue analyses by the committee and by the Congressional Budget Office, which scores other legislation, saying their findings “can be off to the tune of more than $1.5 trillion over ten years.”
The swift backlash helped defuse concerns about the deficit impact long enough for the bill to pass by a vote of 51 to 49. Some deficit hawks in the Senate caucus were sufficiently concerned about the report on Thursday night to delay the tax vote by a day, but the only Republican lawmaker to vote no was Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, whose last-minute efforts to cut the size of the package or otherwise offset the deficit impact were unsuccessful.
Instead, Senate Republicans questioned the timing of the analysis’ release on Thursday, and a spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee released a statement saying the findings are “curious and deserve further scrutiny.”
That sentiment was repeated over and over, before and after the vote. “We think they lowballed it,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip, told reporters on Thursday. On Sunday, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said on CNN that “there’s no doubt that the J.C.T. has been consistently underestimating the activity in our economy.”
In the final hours before and after the bill passed, party leaders insisted that the tax plan would produce enough economic growth to pay for themselves with additional tax revenue from growing businesses and higher-paid workers. “I’m totally confident this is a revenue-neutral bill,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told reporters early Saturday morning after the vote. “Actually a revenue producer.”
Yet there was no data to support those claims, despite promises by the Trump administration that such an analysis would be forthcoming. The Treasury, whose secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has said repeatedly that his department was working on an analysis to show how the tax cuts would not add to the deficit, has not produced any studies that back up those claims. Last week, the Treasury’s inspector general said it was opening an inquiry into the department’s analysis of the tax plan.
The attack on the joint committee and its analysis is a change from the praise Republicans have long heaped on the body, which is staffed with economists and other career bureaucrats who analyze legislation in depth.
“The people who prepare our cost estimates are the best in the business,” Republicans on the House Budget Committee said on a page that has since been removed from their website, “and they’ve been working on this issue for years.”
The critique is the latest example of Republican lawmakers muddying the waters on empirical research in an effort to boost their policy agendas. During the debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers lashed out preemptively at the Congressional Budget Office over how many people would lose health insurance.
Read the entire article here.