WASHINGTON -- The word “certainty” trumped the word “deficit” Thursday as the House of Representatives passed the next two tax breaks in a series that would add $614 billion to the nation’s debt over the next decade.
The two measures, designed to help small businesses, are broadly popular and have been extended on a temporary basis for years. But the Republican-backed measures aim to make them permanent, at a cost of some $75 billion, according to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. A bill that would allow firms to take immediate deductions on investments accounts for most of the cost.
Democrats objected, noting that their GOP colleagues on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee had only recently proposed a broad tax reform plan that would have kept the two breaks and other popular exceptions without adding to the deficit. The reform would have closed other loopholes to pay for the costs.
But with tax reform going nowhere, Republicans jettisoned the idea of fiscal discipline Thursday and voted to make the breaks permanent, with no way to pay for them. They spurned Democratic suggestions that the House take up a proposal by the Senate for another short-term extension of the two cuts, costing just $3.4 billion, to buy time to do tax reform.
“That gives no certainty to the job creators,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), a sponsor of the measures passed Thursday.
Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy, pointing out that a few months ago when the House passed a budget, the GOP declared that the deficit was one of the greatest threats facing the nation.
“What happened to all the rhetoric about fiscal discipline, about getting our deficits in order? Out the window,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Democrats also suggested that the evolving bid to make permanent all the temporary breaks currently on the books amounted to a ruse to make cuts to social programs later on. Rep. Sander Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, noted that Republicans on his panel had already approved permanent tax cuts -- including the two passed by the House on Thursday -- that would add $614 billion to the deficit over 10 years. And if all the temporary breaks currently on the books were included, Levin said, it would tack $1 trillion onto the nation’s credit card.
“The Republicans are going to come back here and say, ‘Wow, look at how much the deficit has increased,’ so you now need to cut these critical programs relating to the lifeline of all of the people in this country, the middle class and all who need some help,” Levin said.
Van Hollen noted that the cuts already passed by Ways and Means -- most of which benefit big businesses -- would cost 30 times what it would cost to extend long-term unemployment insurance for a significant period of time.
Debate over whether the House should follow the lead of the Senate to pass a more modest, temporary set of breaks also touched off a heated exchange that provided unintentional irony.
Tiberi held up a plastic card that members use to cast their votes electronically in the House and said members have a responsibility to use those cards to act independently of the other chamber. Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) countered that members shouldn’t use their cards irresponsibly to run up the deficit.
And that brought a tart response from Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who perhaps overlooked the $75 billion his party was attempting to add to the deficit.
“I’d be remiss if i didn't respond to the last speaker’s comments, the distinguished gentleman from Maryland, who with a straight face indicated that this card, his card, was a vehicle for fiscal responsibility,” Young said, holding up his own voting card and pulling a credit card from his pocket. “Consistently, he's confused this [voting] card with this card, a credit card. We've continued to rack up debts, and we have not engaged in growth-oriented public policy.”
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.