The new Republican Congress is wasting no time on high-profile political maneuvers to prove their right-wing agenda. Yesterday, the House GOP, bucking some of its own, took its 54th vote to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by voting to redefine full-time as a 40-hour work week (the move would leave up to 500,000 without insurance and increase deficits by $53 billion over ten years). Today, it passed legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline instead of working to create clean energy jobs and protect public health. And next week, it is expected to use the need to fund the Department of Homeland Security as a chance to please their far-right anti-immigrant base by defunding the president’s recent common-sense executive actions on immigration.
House Republicans, however, did something else this week that may be getting less attention, but is no less important: They passed the new rules package for the 114th Congress. And two of these little-known but significant rules speak volumes about the broader Republican agenda to favor the wealthy and corporations at the expense of everyone else.
An important part of the lawmaking process is the evaluation of the potential law’s fiscal impact — how much it is projected to change federal spending and revenues. In the first rule change, the House GOP now directs Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeepers to use a new system called “dynamic scoring” when evaluating some proposed legislation: a move that will make it easier to cut taxes.
While the details are quite technical, what Republicans are attempting to do amounts to fuzzy math. Take this example: Republicans propose a tax cut. Scorekeepers have to evaluate how much it will cost. The new rule requires them to predict how the tax cut will affect the overall economy in the future–something that requires a lot of speculation, and could give the impression of reducing how much a tax cut would cost. Now say Democrats propose an investment in education or infrastructure. The rule does not allow scorekeepers to apply the same potentially beneficial predictive speculation to appropriations bills, where these investments are generally made.
This is in effect cooking the books in favor of tax cuts and trickle-down economics. We’ve seen very well how that went under President George W. Bush, whose massive tax cuts in 2001-2003 irresponsibly skewed the tax system in favor of the wealthy and subsequently forced dramatic cuts in important safety net programs. And more recently, Kansas has made the point again. With the promise of a “shot of adrenaline” for the state economy, the state passed massive tax cuts favoring the wealthy; instead, it has gotten a gaping hole in the budget and an under-performing state economy.
A move to hold Social Security hostage
With the second rule change, the House GOP have added a restriction to Social Security that could jeopardize the trust fund and help Republicans in their efforts to cut benefits.
There’s a routine transfer that happens between the Social Security retirement trust fund, which is financially secure, and the Social Security disability program, which has been under more strain in recent years due to demographic shifts such as aging baby boomers. It’s happened 11 times. The new rule passed by House Republicans prevents this transfer, unless it also includes new revenues or benefit cuts. The disability program is expected to run short of money in 2016, which means that beneficiaries will face up to 20 percent cuts in their payments without a transfer between the trust funds. In effect, the rule holds Social Security hostage so that conservatives can extract more concessions in a potential entitlement reform.
BOTTOM LINE: While this week has had a number of high-profile legislative pushes, little-known rule changes have had big effects in revealing the backward priorities of the new GOP Congress. Dynamic scoring for tax cuts will make trickle-down policies that favor the wealthy easier than before. And a restriction on a routine Social Security transfer could mean more benefits cuts for working families. (CAP- 1/9/15)