Donald Trump’s flailings are ever more terrifying. In the course of a few days, he tossed a grenade into the health-care markets that millions rely on, traduced the Iranian nuclear deal, threatened to abandon US citizens ravaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, continued to sabotage action on climate change, tweeted about censoring the media, and so undermined his own secretary of state that Republican Senator Bob Corker accused him of castration. For all of that, Trump’s grotesqueries are exceeded by a Republican Congress intent on a course so ruinous as to be, one hopes, impossible to sustain.
This week, Senate Republicans will seek to push through a budget resolution for the current fiscal year. The resolution provides guidelines for spending and tax cuts, with projections for the next decade. Although its provisions are destructive and absurd, it has the support of virtually all of the Republican caucus.
The resolution is designed to facilitate the passage of tax cuts with Republican votes only. The final package hasn’t been written yet, but Republican leaders have produced a “framework.” Its elements are perverse. We know that extreme inequality corrupts our democracy and impedes economic growth. As a detailed analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center makes clear, this bill will make it worse, with the top 1 percent pocketing over half of the tax cuts next year—and an obscene 80 percent by year 10. The multinational corporations that book profits abroad to avoid taxes will be rewarded with a retroactive tax cut for $2.6 trillion stashed overseas. The proposal would also expand that tax dodge by virtually eliminating taxes on profits they report as earned abroad. And at a time when hedge-fund operators pay a lower tax rate than schoolteachers, this bill would enlarge the outrage with a massive tax break for real-estate barons, hedge-fund managers, and lawyers, delivered by taxing “pass-through” income at a reduced rate. Instead of closing loopholes, this bill adds to them.
The spending side of the Senate bill has received less attention, but it’s even worse. As a comprehensive analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details, the bill projects $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. At a time when the baby boomers are retiring, it calls for cuts of $473 billion in Medicare, over $1 trillion in Medicaid, and hundreds of billions of dollars in Obamacare subsidies to medium- and low-income workers. It projects cuts of over $650 billion in income-security programs for low-income workers—primarily food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, the child tax credit, and supplemental security income for disabled seniors, adults, and children in need. Another $200 billion will be cut from the Pell grants and student loans that help working families afford college. These cuts will leave millions without affordable health care and make millions of disabled and low-income Americans even more vulnerable.
The budget also contains stunning cuts in what is called “non-defense discretionary spending” (essentially everything the government does outside of the military, entitlements, and interest payments on the national debt). These include cuts to agencies that contribute to our safety—law enforcement, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the DEA—as well as services vital to our health, like environmental protection and water and sewage systems. The public investment crucial to our economy and our future—science and technology, medical research, modern infrastructure, education and advanced training, and more—would also be slashed. These programs are already projected to sustain deep cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act, but the Senate bill decimates them. By 2019, it cuts this spending by 10 percent from 2017 levels; by 2027, that number is nearly 20 percent. As a share of the economy, our spending on domestic services will be reduced to levels not seen since Herbert Hoover.
This is a suicide budget. In a country dealing with a growing population, rising global competition, and pressing new challenges like catastrophic climate change, the Republican Senate would cash in our future to provide endless tax cuts for the richest among us.
The United States will lag rather than lead the industrial world in education and training. We will squander our edge in innovation. We will suffer the rising perils and costs of a decrepit and outmoded infrastructure. We already witness all these trends today. The Senate budget is on course to accelerate them.
This folly, one hopes, is too extreme to be passed. Yet this week, all of the Senate’s Republicans—save perhaps for one or two dissenters—will vote for a budget that is truly a road to ruin. Why? Partly, of course, to reward the wealthy special interests that fund their party. They may also fear right-wing challengers if they don’t toe the line. Or they may be motivated by purblind ideological conviction, although it’s hard to imagine that any of them really believe these measures would make things better. And then there’s sheer desperation: At this point, the GOP has to get something done, even if it does more harm than good to most Americans. President Trump’s increasingly manic careenings are terrifying to behold, but the remorseless suicide mission of the Republicans caucus in Congress should horrify us as well.