During a debate last night, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was asked what he would cut from the budget in order to offset the expense of extending the Bush tax cuts. Remember, a full extension would cost more than $4 trillion over ten years, while extending the cuts for just the richest two percent of Americans costs $830 billion. Rather than lay out where he would make cuts, Vitter rejected the premise of the question, scoffing at the very notion that tax cuts should be paid for:
VITTER: Well, first of all, I disagree with the premise that in order to keep tax rates where they are and not increase taxes, somehow we need to pay for that. I think that’s Washington-speak, not Louisiana-speak. [...]
Q: It’s a misnomer to say this continuing, for the top rates, wouldn’t have to be paid for. You would have to pay that $750 billion because it was supposed to sunset. It’s not an increase, it’s a sunset.
VITTER: Just to be clear, the premise that I disagree with is that to avoid a tax increase, we somehow have to pay for it. It’s not the government’s money, it’s our money. That’s the point.
Vitter did eventually endorse some spending cuts — including rescinding unspent stimulus money, which would have the practical effect of raising taxes on the middle class — but they wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of just extending the tax cuts for the richest two percent. And it’s his complete dismissal of the very notion that tax cuts should be paid for that merits attention.
Under current law, which stipulates that the Bush tax cuts expire, the government will collect 21 percent of GDP in revenue in 2020. Extending the cuts means less revenue for the government (21 percent of GDP minus the cuts) and a larger deficit. That’s not “Washington-speak,” it’s basic budgeting. For what it’s worth, the last time that the budget was balanced, the government brought in 20 percent of GDP in revenue.
But Vitter is hardly alone in his position. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in August, “you’re talking about current tax policy. Why did it all of a sudden become something that we, quote, pay for?” “Listen, what you’re trying to do is get into this Washington game and their funny accounting over there,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), when asked if Republicans planned to pay for extending tax cuts for the rich. “It’s not a cost. That’s where we are today. That’s the baseline. It doesn’t score anything to continue them,” insisted Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
So the next time Vitter fearmongers about the “grab-bag of deficit spending” that he sees in Washington, it’s worth remembering that he doesn’t consider tax cuts — one of the main drivers of the deficit — to be part of the equation.