The GOP's Budget With No Numbers

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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On Feb. 26, President Obama delivered an ambitious $3.6 billion budget that would "finance vast new investments in health care, energy independence and education by raising taxes on the oil and gas industry, hedge fund managers, multinational corporations and nearly 3 million of the nation's top earners." Obama acknowledged that the proposal would "add to our deficits in the short term to provide immediate relief to families and get our economy moving," but he said that these investments had been put off for too long and could not face more delays. Republicans immediately attacked the plan. "The era of big government is back, and Democrats are asking you to pay for it," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). "The administration's plan, I think, is a job killer, plain and simple." When a recent National Journal poll asked how Congress should "respond to the recent deficit projections," zero percent of Republican lawmakers said that Congress should pass "something close to President Obama's budget." So what is their alternative? As the AP summarized, it's "a glossy pamphlet short on detail and long on campaign-style talking points."

Last week, reporters excitedly gathered for a GOP press conference where House leaders said they would announce their alternative to Obama's budget. The proposal that GOP leaders presented, however, was a huge disappointment; basically, it was nothing more than a "brochure." Annoyed at being summoned for this non-event, reporters quizzed Boehner on specifics of the plan: "Are you going to have any further details on this today?" "What about some numbers? What about the out-year deficit? What about balancing the budget?" Reporting on MSNBC, host Contessa Brewer exclaimed, "Give me some substance!" The GOP "budget," in fact, contains almost no numbers -- except where they criticize the Obama administration's figures. The few ideas their plan does have include undoing the economic recovery package (which would be hard to do since some of the money is already out the door), and lowering the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent income tax brackets to 25 percent (regressive cuts that would gut government revenue). According to a Citizens for Tax Justice analysis, more than a quarter of all taxpayers -- mostly low-income families -- would pay more in taxes under this plan than they would under Obama's. On the other hand, "the richest one percent of taxpayers would pay $100,000 less, on average, under the House GOP plan." Additionally, although Republicans claim to be so concerned about the rising deficit, their income tax proposals "would cost over $300 billion more than the Obama income tax cuts in 2011 alone." "The party of 'no' has become the party of no new ideas," quipped White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in response to the GOP proposal.

According to the Republican leadership, the reason that lawmakers didn't release numbers last week is because they intend to do so this week. "The numbers will come next week with a multi-hundred page piece of legislation" that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is currently drafting, Boehner's office told First Read. Ryan's bill will still likely be short on new, deficit-cutting ideas though. As the Wonk Room's Pat Garofalo has noted, his plan "consists almost entirely of massive tax cuts for corporations and the rich," including lowering the top marginal tax rate to 25 percent, lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and completely eliminating the capital gains tax. Not only are these tax cuts regressive, but they will result in significant lost government revenue. According to a Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis, Ryan's plan gives the average CEO a $1.5 million tax break, while doing nothing for minimum wage workers.

Republicans are also standing firm against allowing Obama to use the reconciliation process to pass key parts of his budget, such as health care and energy reform. This 25-year-old procedure "allows for the passage of a budget by a simple majority vote rather than the usual 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster." Republican senators have said that they are prepared to go "nuclear" -- essentially shutting down the Senate through the use of parliamentary maneuvers -- if budget reconciliation is pursued. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) compared reconciliation to "an act of violence" against the GOP. However, Republicans employed the same procedure to pass major Bush agenda items, including the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, and the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005. In fact, in 2005, Gregg defended using the reconciliation procedure, arguing, "The president asked for it, and we're trying to do what the president asked for."