The GOP spent four years pressuring Senate Democrats to write a budget so that they could attack them for proposing tax increases.
On Wednesday they got their wish — a Senate Dem budget that proposes cutting spending by $975 billion and raising an equal amount of new revenue by limiting tax expenditures.
Cue the press releases decrying the Democrats’ trillion dollar tax hike, right? Wrong. Instead, Republicans are falsely claiming that the Dem budget actually calls for $500 billion in additional taxes above the sticker price.
“Any Senator who votes for that budget is voting for a $1.5 trillion tax hike, the largest in the history of our country,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in floor remarks Thursday morning.
Republicans are too smart to simply pull a higher number out of thin air and hope nobody notices. And sure enough, the $1.5 trillion claim isn’t entirely arbitrary. But it’s a product of their attempt to turn sequestration’s spending cuts into a permanently lower spending baseline, and thus a willful misreading of the Democratic budget itself.
Here’s what’s going on.
“As described above, the Senate Democratic budget calls for $975 billion in new spending cuts, and $975 billion in new taxes. Subtract out $100 billion in new jobs spending and that’s a $1.85 trillion overall adjustment. But they don’t propose to pile all that deficit reduction on top of sequestration’s arbitrary and unintended cuts to the discretionary budget.
Instead, Dems propose the $1.85 trillion as, essentially, a balanced alternative to sequestration. You can think of it as the sort of plan they would have liked the deficit-reduction Super Committee to pass back in 2011. Combine it with the $2.4 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases Congress has already passed, and it adds up to more than the $4 trillion the Simpson-Bowles report proposed.
But Republicans want to hold on to sequestration permanently, or at best replace it with other spending cuts. For that reason, they assume it’s permanently baked into the budget. And on that baseline you might say that Democrats propose to free up $1.85 trillion in the budget, use $1.2 trillion to pay down all of sequestration, and put the difference toward deficit reduction. By that reasoning, Republicans could say Democrats are reducing the deficit by only $600 billion, rather than the $1.85 trillion they claim. It’s not an unreasonable argument.
But instead of making that argument, Republicans have decided to torture the numbers. First, they assume a baseline Democrats aren’t actually using — one where sequestration-level spending is permanent. Not a tricky move by itself. The tricky part comes next.
They reason that if Democrats are actually proposing to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion, then the nearly $500 billion in tax revenues they dedicate to paying down sequestration (and another $100 billion in spending they dedicate to financing a new jobs proposal) would have to come on top of the $975 billion of tax increases the budget explicitly calls for.
In other words, Democrats want to raise $975 billion in new tax revenue and use some of it to turn off sequestration. Instead of accepting this, Republicans are claiming — falsely — that the revenue for paying down sequestration is in addition to the $975 billion. It is not.
It would be fair of Republicans to argue that the Democrats’ budget only reduces the deficit by about $600 billion — though most outside experts, like Senate Democrats, propose budgets built on a baselines in which sequestration doesn’t happen. But rather than make the controversial case for permanent sequestration-level spending, Republicans decided to gloss over the baseline issue altogether, and write a non-existent $500 billion tax increase into the Democrats budget.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.