Appearing on two Sunday talk shows, the GOP’s top budget guru Rep. Paul Ryan promised to close enough loopholes to pay for the large tax cuts in his budget blueprint unveiled last week — but he repeatedly refused to specify any.
“We’re proposing to keep revenues where they are, but to clear up all the special interest loopholes, which are uniquely enjoyed by higher income earners, in exchange for lower rates for everyone,” Ryan said on CBS’ Face The Nation. “We’re saying get rid of the tax shelters, the interest group loopholes and lower everybody’s tax rates.”
The plan does not point to any such tax loopholes, nor is it expected to become law. But the House Budget Chairman’s suggested it isn’t his job to specify which ones. His message boils down to this: Trust us, we’ll get to it.
“That’s what the Ways & Means Committee is supposed to do. That’s not the job of the Budget Committee,” Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. “What we’re saying is, we want to do this in the light of day, not in some backroom deal. We want to have hearings in the Ways & Means Committee that Chairman Dave Camp has already started that work, to say what tax benefits should go.”
The Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the plan, which envisions two tax rates of 10 percent and 25 percent, while abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax. That’s likely to cause a huge drop in federal revenues. Estimates suggest that the federal budget has over $1 trillion dollars of annual tax expenditures, in the form of exclusions, deductions and credits.
Ryan made a similar pledge to take on these tax loopholes last year, but that hasn’t yet materialized. It’s an arduous task, in part because many beneficiaries of the deductions and subsidies are powerful political players like oil companies, and will fight to keep them. Some of the credits, such as the tax exclusion on employer-provided health insurance, benefit the middle class and enjoy strong support in Congress.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat, twice called Ryan’s plan a “smoke in mirrors budget.” Appearing on CBS after the GOP congressman, he declared, “Anyone can get up there and say, I will cut 2 trillion dollars in taxes, I will cut 5 trillion dollars in spending. But then when they say, where are they going to make it up, he doesn’t say.”
“In fact,” Schumer said, “if you don’t raise capital gains and dividends, and it’s Republican watchwords never to raise those, the only way he can make it up is on the backs of the middle class. Eliminating or greatly reducing the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction, the child tax care credit, the health care deductions that employers pay.”
As for now, Ryan is essentially offering his word that his party will make good on its promise. Pressed by Fox’s Chris Wallace to name any loopholes he would support cutting, Ryan responded, “I can’t because those decisions haven’t been made.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.