Sen. Mike Enzi (R) is taking some well-deserved heat from Democrats for the magical Republican budget he’s trying to push through the U.S. Senate.
It’s “magical” because the GOP resorts to some pretty wizardly tricks to balance its budget. As the first accountant to chair the powerful Senate Budget Committee, surely the Wyoming Republican must see things aren’t adding up the way he and his colleagues contend.
During the next decade the GOP’s budget would bring in more than $1 trillion in taxes that — because of philosophical differences with the Obama administration — they don’t even want to collect. That includes taxes that help pay for the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” which the Republicans are zealously trying to repeal.
Enzi and his would-be deficit-cutters plan to reduce federal spending by about $5.5 trillion during the next 10 years so the government will finally be able to balance the books. It’s a laudable goal, but the cuts the Senate Budget Committee proposed would balance our budget on the backs of the poor and middle class, which need help the most. That’s unacceptable to most Americans.
Obamacare, which Enzi insists is a huge failure, has actually been the success its proponents claimed it would be by insuring people and reducing the national deficit — a deficit ballooned by the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent estimate noted repealing Obamacare would actually add $210 billion to the deficit.
But even while they’re denouncing Obama’s healthcare reform and trying to kill it, knowing such action runs counter to everything they claim about their fiscal goals, last Thursday Enzi’s committee voted 12-10 along party lines to effectively hide what it’s doing. The GOP wants to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, but not assume the budget consequences if they are successful.
Lawmakers are allowed to raise what are called budget “points of order” against any bills that would add more than $5 billion to the deficit, and block the legislation.
However, the Enzi-led Senate Budget Committee performed some amazing sleight-of-hand when it decided to exempt Obamacare from the points of order. An amendment by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to make the rules apply to Obamacare was rejected.
Stabenow said the GOP’s move shouldn’t have been allowed, because it lets Republicans count revenue they don’t want to get from Obamacare while it makes the law exempt from the budget deficit rules.
“You can’t rig the rules on both sides,” Stabenow told the Huffington Post. “That’s not fair. I would argue that’s really budget gimmickry. I think it’s important if you are going to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, you have to step up and assume the consequences of that.”
Unbelievably, after the way he’s attacked President Barack Obama for not being more specific about his proposed budgets since 2009, Enzi’s budget would cut $430 billion from Medicare but doesn’t spell out how the savings would be realized.
The Wyoming senator also favors giving the states block grants for Medicare, Medicaid, welfare and food stamps. If that misguided move ever happens, Republican state lawmakers will likely look for every loophole they can find to use a healthy chunk of that money on other resources. Wyoming will continue punishing the poor by reducing funds that are supposed to help them.
Social Security, which has long been the target of rampant Republican rage, would see benefits for new enrollees sharply reduced under the Senate’s budget. That would set the stage for Congress to cut everyone’s benefits in the future, and/or raise the retirement age. How do you think that will fly with Wyoming seniors once they realize what’s happening?
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent lawmaker from Vermont and possible presidential candidate, has vowed to fight Enzi’s budget. As the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, he aptly called it “Robin Hood in reverse” because it favors the wealthiest citizens at the expense of the lower- and middle-classes.
The GOP budget targets both Social Security and Medicare for cuts at a time when Congress should be protecting both programs, Sanders added. He correctly listed other issues that should be priorities for the nation — raise the minimum wage, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, lower student debt and reform the tax code.
Sanders was also right when he labeled the foolish and harsh across-the-board “sequestration” cuts to domestic and military programs as “mindless austerity.” Let’s never forget it was the GOP that screamed for sequestration when Congress passed the 2011 Budget Control Act in a deal with Obama that traded spending cuts for a $2.1 trillion increase in the federal government’s borrowing limit. The policy is still crippling many federal agencies and programs.
It’s up to Senate Democrats to make the GOP’s budget gimmicks disappear. They weren’t able to keep former President George W. Bush from funding wars in Afghanistan and Iraq off the books. When Obama corrected that magical accounting by insisting on honest bookkeeping, it made the formidable budget problems he inherited from Bush even worse.
Democratic and independent senators aren’t the only ones outraged by a Republican budget slavishly devoted to rewarding wealthy interests. Catholic advocates recently said they want to prevent trillions of dollars in social services spending from being slashed over the next decade.
Since 2010, according to the White House, 16.4 million people now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, the House and Senate GOP have absolutely no alternative in their respective budgets for people who would lose coverage if Republicans manage to repeal Obamacare.
In sharp contrast to the Republicans’ budget “leadership,” Obama presented a budget to Congress in February that would improve the lives of many Americans instead of increasing the lines at soup kitchens. He proposed spending $478 billion on the nation’s infrastructure over the next six years. It would be paid for by changing how inherited wealth is taxed.
Obama’s budget would initiate a one-time, 14 percent tax on corporate wealth repatriated from overseas to pay for two years of community college for all U.S. citizens. He also would lift the caps on both Pentagon and social services spending that were put in place by the ill-advised sequestration.
Naturally, congressional Republicans declared the president’s plan dead on arrival. But Obama’s ideas would actually help the nation, while the Republicans’ plan would just sever the social services safety net so more Americans must live in poverty.
Enzi and other Republicans are hell-bent on balancing the budget at all costs, even as the government has significantly reduced its national debt. The GOP has obstructed Obama at every turn since he took office, but they don’t mind taking advantage of an improved economy under his leadership if it helps their own budget look better on paper.
How do they do it? Through a valuation method called “dynamic scoring,” Republicans simply balance the books by assuming a lower national debt boosts the economy, and also reduces the need for more federal income. Enzi’s budget adds $164 billion to deficit cuts he attributes to the economic growth benefits of having lower debt.
If it assists the GOP’s budget-balancing tricks, Enzi is happy to use economic improvements under Obama that he and other Republicans voraciously opposed. He’s OK with counting revenue generated by Obamacare if it improves the nation’s bottom line, but he also approved hiding the amountfunds that would be added to the national deficit if his dream comes true and Obamacare is eliminated.
If Enzi would answer my questions about the Senate’s budget, I’d be happy to include his responses. But his communications director said Enzi won’t respond to any queries from myself or WyoFile.
When Enzi was appointed chairman of the Budget Committee, Fox News called him the Senate’s “affable accountant.” It’s probably not too hard to be agreeable and good-natured if your budget is patched together any way you can make it look like it actually adds up.
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