Rules For (Republican) Radicals

by Jonathan Chait | December 23, 2010

 Politico reports on the House Republicans' "strict" new rules:

The new House Republican majority will force lawmakers to vote when they want to raise the nation's debt ceiling, publish committee attendance records, keep former members from lobbying in the House gym and require new mandatory spending to be offset by cuts to other programs.

On the spending front, Republicans plan to implement a series of rules called CUT/GO — a conservative answer to the PAY/GO rules instituted by Democrats. Under CUT/GO, increases in mandatory spending would have to be offset by spending cuts in other programs. Mandatory spending refers to the autopilot portion of the budget covering Social Security, Medicare and other programs designed to make payouts based on eligibility criteria rather than a set dollar figure each year. 

Under CUT/GO, offsets could not be achieved by raising taxes, according to the summary.

This is not a strict new rule. This is a slackening of an existing rule.

The old rules, created under the highly successful 1990 deficit reduction deal between George Bush and (mostly) Democrats in Congress, any new entitlement spending or tax cuts had to be offset with entitlement cuts or higher taxes. Republicans hated this rule, and suspended it in 2001, allowing them to pass a series of tax cuts and spending hikes without any offsets. Democrats reinstated the rule in 2006, leaving a loophole for the Bush tax cuts.

Republicans have now eliminated it again. But instead of new rule, they have a rule that spending hikes must be offset with spending cuts. Under the old rule, if you wanted new spending, you had to either raise taxes or cut other spending. Now you can only cut spending.

More importantly, the GOP new rules mean that new tax cuts do not require any offsets at all. Which is to say, they are replacing a rule that prevented policies that add to the deficit with a rule that enables policies that add to the deficit. They may call that "strict," but it is the opposite.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/80380/rules-republican-radicals