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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Toomey placed on budget panel: This is how screwed we are

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 10:13 AM

Hometown boy makes good, I guess. Pennsylvania's junior Senator, Tea Party favorite Pat Toomey, is going to be on the "super committee" that's supposed to hatch bipartisan solutions to the federal deficit by year's end.

What's this mean? Well, let's see. For starters, when Toomey announced this news online, his release included the somewhat cryptic injunction "let my people go" in its headline. Sounds ominous. So does the fact that Toomey voted against the debt-ceiling hike that created this committee in the first place.

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No wonder lefties suspect "there's basically zero chance that [Toomey or the other Republican representatives on the panel] will support a marginally acceptable deficit reduction package." Acceptable, that is, to the majority of us who believe that some sort of tax increase on the wealthy -- or on anyone, anywhere -- has to be part of a defifict reduction plan.

Of course, Toomey insists common ground is possible. Coverage in the local dailies quoted him making vague sounds about bipartisanship. ("If this committee's going to be successful, it absolutely has to have bipartisan support," Toomey told reporters.)

But so far, the GOP definition of bipartisanship seems to mean that Republicans say "cut!" and Democrats respond, "how low?" There's little reason to think that will change when the "super committee" begins its deliberations.

After all, Toomey has signed a pledge, sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, that swears off any tax increase whatsoever. And the last time there was a bipartisan effort to cobble together a debt solution -- the Senate's "Gang of Six" -- ATR urged Republican participants to abandon the effort, for fear that it might lead to a tax hike. The fact that ATR head Grover Norquist is so enthusiastic about Toomey's participation in this panel tells you what the hard right's expectations are." (And of course, Toomey voted against the debt ceiling hike that Congress eventually did pass.)

But perhaps the best way to get a sense of Toomey's priorities is to read his own words about fiscal policy in his book The Road to Prosperity. This 2009 tome, essentially a campaign document to prepare for his Senate run last year, makes clear that tax hikes aren't an option. Toomey is so in favor of tax cuts, in fact, that he's actually willing to make deficits worse in order to get them.

In his chapter on federal spending, Toomey urges Congress to reinstate a variant of the Budget Enforcement Act -- a 1990s fiscal measure that impose "pay as you go" rules on spending. Under those rules, Toomey writes, "any tax cuts or new mandatory spending increases [would have] to be offset with other tax hikes or spending cuts in order to reamin 'deficit neutral'." 

The pay-as-you-go approach was abandoned during the administration of -- wait for it -- George W. Bush. Toomey credits it as "a reasonably successful measure" that "did help to restraing spending somewhat."

But the measure, he complains had a flaw: It required paying for tax cuts and spending increases alike. While he says "[s]trict caps on discretionary spending would be welcome," he opposes "restoring the restriction on cutting taxes. While offsetting lost revenue from a tax cut with spending cuts would be ideal, the restoration of the old rule would most likely prevent the tax cuts from being implemented at all. The last thing Congress needs is further obstacles to lower taxes."

In other words, let's not have deficit fears trump a tax-cut agenda. Those fears should only be used to curtail spending. 

Toomey's justification for this is that tax cuts essentially pay for themselves: When "properly designed," the cuts "accelerate economic growth," and thus revenues. But this is the logic that gave us the Bush tax cuts -- remember Dick Cheney insisting "deficits don't matter"? And those cuts account for a sizable chunk of the government's deficit problem in the first place.

Unlike some other Republicans, Toomey at least sounds willing to consider closing some tax loopholes. By the standard of today's GOP, that would actually may make him more moderate than some other Tea Party faves

But fundamentally, Toomey's inclusion on the panel is just one more reason to think Democrats are being set up for another mugging. Brace yourself for more heartache, Congressman Doyle!

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