Government

And Now... The Flip Side of the Tax Cuts

House Speaker Paul Ryan pledges major spending reform in 2018. Will his party follow?

Michael Swartz · Dec. 8, 2017
Can Ryan herd the elephants toward spending reform too?

In the weeks since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was introduced, Democrats (as well as a handful of conservatives) have tried to demo-gogue it for supposedly adding $1.5 trillion to our $20 trillion national debt over the next decade — a charge that would be laughable if it hadn’t come from a party whose most recent president nearly doubled that debt in just eight years. Fortunately, both the House and Senate have passed a version of tax cuts, and there’s a decent chance America may yet get its tax cut for Christmas, just as President Donald Trump promised.

But there remains the pesky question about adding to the debt, and the Left crows each time a new estimate comes out to reinforce their contention that tax cuts won’t pay for themselves. So it wasn’t exactly a secret that Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan are looking at the spending side, too — as they should. Needless to say, however, as soon as they come out with any such proposal, Republicans are met with condemnation from across the aisle.

“What’s coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, adding, “Republicans are already saying ‘entitlement reform’ and ‘welfare reform’ are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled — that’s just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs.”

Wyden’s statements, in turn, are just code for the media to start hunting down “victims” of these “draconian cuts” sure to come — because when Republicans bring up the prospect, someone like Bernie Sanders will helpfully translate it: “They just told you they’re going to cut Social Security!”

Being misrepresented by the opposition is no reason to avoid a necessary process, though, and Paul Ryan is no stranger to it. In 2014, even with nearly non-existent chances of adoption, Ryan put forward a “Path to Prosperity” that took a thoughtful look at a number of budgetary areas, chief among them repealing ObamaCare and reforming Medicare and Medicaid. To him, it was a way to get government to give a hand up and not a handout.

Fast forward to the present day, and the speaker’s message is the same. “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform,” said Ryan, “which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” So we know Ryan understands the situation, but what about the rest of his party?

Certainly there are those in the GOP who figured reducing spending wasn’t the hill they wanted to die on, especially when it’s so easy to spend other peoples’ money to buy their votes. However, those who voted for Republicans over the last 40 years were putting their trust in a series of promises made about addressing deficit spending. (Ironically, it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who got most of the credit in the ‘90s when spending was last curtailed to the point of budget surpluses. Yet it would never have happened without Newt Gingrich and the GOP-led House and Senate.)

Jonah Goldberg astutely observes, “As a matter of economic policy, conservatives believe that the people themselves are better at spending their money than the government is. Cutting taxes and regulations drives economic growth. Liberals, meanwhile, believe that the government is the prime, or at least an indispensable, driver of economic growth. This is why liberals tend to talk about spending on everything from infrastructure to education as an 'investment.’”

Goldberg’s point would be reflected in the Democrats’ argument that this latest round of tax cuts will drive up the deficit, but Republicans are willing to address this concern by spending less money. (In reality, what they would do in many cases is simply repackage the money as a block grant for states to spend as they see fit.) On the other hand, Democrats would rather spend the money and pay for some of it via a more steeply progressive tax system. But elections have consequences, and regardless of whether they had more popular votes last time around or believe the Virginia results are a precursor to the 2018 midterms, the Democrats are currently the minority party (and for very good reason, we might add).

Republicans desperately need the win on tax reform so they can start on entitlements, an issue crying out for bold solutions. Perhaps the most telling aspect of this situation is the wailing of the Democrats — who for eight years with their president refused to reach across the aisle and do something about it. It’s nice to have the adults in charge again.

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