The New York Times is at its best when it delves into long-form journalism describing the behind-the-scenes of legislation, regulation, governance, science or so forth, stuff not premised on the anonymous grievances of “senior” officials who find it useful to leak to reporters arguments too ridiculous to say in public. The Times’ look at the efficiency with which big U.S. corporations were able to extract a host of tax breaks from the Trump administration’s “regulators” in the wake of the hastily scribbled-together 2017 Republican “tax cuts” is a good example of this. It has specific corporate names, specific lobbyist efforts, and the specific tweaks they won to undermine whatever pretense the Republican law had of “closing loopholes” or, more critically, meeting the revenue claims the Paul Ryans of the party blustered it would.
It is important because, as we all know, the overall effort has ended in a budgetary disaster. That is not overstating things; government coffers are expected to be down a trillion dollars in 2020, which is less a fiscal problem than an act of budgetary terrorism.
So go, read that and come back. Back now? Great. Let’s pick this apart a little. Some small bits first:
“Republicans were racing to secure a legislative victory during Mr. Trump’s first year in office.” Eh. Republicans were racing to use unified Republican government to push forward a longtime dream of the Ayn Rand wing of the party: murder effective government through orchestrated neglect. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Speaker at the time, had goals taken directly from Grover Norquist and other hard-right conservatives who have for decades expressed open contempt at government doing anything for anyone that did not involve bombing them; the explicit technique favored has been, since Reagan, to slash government revenues to unsustainable new lows, then use the resulting deficits to argue that steep, vicious cuts are required—for social services. For food aid, for Social Security, for Medicare. For infrastructure: Why should the government build transportation networks and hubs, rather than let the “free market” decide which roads should be built and how much it could cost to drive on them? For education, and science, and moon landings and the rest of it.
This is not a hidden agenda, and the unwillingness of the press to report it as an agenda despite literal decades of Republicans eagerly explaining their intent remains baffling. It may be that today’s reporters are too young to even remember its origins. It may be that the effort to avoid editorializing on a policy that, editorially speaking, would seem to rank somewhere a notch above sociopathic requires reporters to feign naiveté if the strategy’s Republican advocates can give even a hint of plausible deniability.
That leads to the more fundamental problem: It seems an error to claim that any of this was unforeseen. It was certainly foreseen. That Republican revenue claims, and Republican claims that “new” taxes on corporations would balance out the gargantuan new tax cuts given to the topmost one percent, were inflated if not outright fraudulent was warned of from the first drafts.
The law was “by all accounts, sloppily written”, says the Times, which is the reason that lobbyists have been able to absolutely gut much of the purported loophole-closing Republicans bragged of. This wasn’t an accident. It could have been patched before the bill was voted on; it was not.
That the Republican administration overseeing the implementation of the bill and, in specific, Trump’s version of the Treasury Department would be quite eager to accommodate lobbying efforts intended to exclude the very largest corporations from the new laws supposedly meant to target them is not an accident. It has been the operating procedure of each installed cabinet member; it heralds, again, from the same archconservative insistence on “freeing” corporations from taxes and oversight both that has been a hallmark of every modern Republican administration. What the Trump era adds to the mix is that the Trump team does its surgery not with scalpels, but with earthmoving equipment. Plausible deniability is for centrists and cowards.
What the Times has documented, then, is the after-the-fact crossing of the t’s and dotting of the i’s that was absolutely sure to happen, when House and Senate Republicans crafted the up-yours version of a tax policy, using regulations to strip whatever promises of fiscal responsibility the crafters blustered about before and during the votes.
“The Joint Committee on Taxation, the congressional panel that estimates the impacts of tax changes, predicted that the BEAT and GILTI would bring in $262 billion over a decade,” says the Times, but the actual results will be “tens of billions” less than claimed.
You will note, throughout the piece, that there seems no push by Republican lawmakers to “fix” the new holes being so lavishly drilled through their revenue plans. Even though they could. And even though the Democratic House would no doubt be willing to assist.
The budget deficit, meanwhile, has exploded to a staggering $1 trillion. It will be met, when Republicans next lose the presidency, with Republican demands that something is done about this outrage that somehow happened under Republican watch, according to the Republican plan, as a result of Republican legislation forced through via reconciliation measures so that Republicans could best steamroll over the other party. Conservatives will then demand we spend less on fixing the roads, and less on feeding the poor, and that Social Security is either gutted or at the very least given to Wall Street as seed money for whatever new gambling effort the markets will next invent.
And then they will propose another corporate tax cut. And again, the Paul Ryans of the party will lie, outright, to claim that the next one will fix all this up for sure.