Economy & Business

The Corner

Susan Collins’s Budget Math

Susan Collins has some issues with the Senate’s tax bill. She appears to be asking the impossible.

The key piece of background information here is that if Republicans want to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, they need to use the “reconciliation” process. This means their bill can’t increase the deficit more than $1.5 trillion over ten years (per the budget resolution they passed earlier) and can’t increase the deficit at all outside that budget window (per the standard rules of reconciliation). The Senate’s current bill bumps up against both of those limits, so any change to it needs to be paid for.

Collins does propose a few swaps — keeping the top individual tax rate where it is to give bigger breaks to the middle class; cutting the corporate rate to 22 percent instead of 20 percent so we can keep the state-and-local-tax deduction. 

But when Collins says that individual-mandate repeal should be stricken or “dropped” from the Senate bill — though, in fairness, she’s also mentioned the possibility of “mitigating” the damage to the health-care market with other legislation — she’s saying the Senate needs to find something to replace the more than $300 billion in savings that provision creates. (When fewer people get health-insurance plans, the government will spend less on subsidies.) The Senate can’t take the House bill’s approach to these funds, either, because Collins praises the higher child tax credit the Senate spends a lot of the extra money on.

The mandate repeal is also permanent, which is one thing that allows the Senate bill to make the corporate tax cuts permanent as well. (Remember, no deficit increases after ten years, so any tax cut beyond that point has to be matched to a revenue-raiser or spending cut.) But far from offering some alternative way of paying for a permanent cut to the corporate rate, Collins says we should make the individual cuts permanent too — which compounds the problem, and indeed would create a new problem even if mandate repeal were left in. There’s a reason the individual cuts expired to begin with.

It’s true, as Collins says, that the bill the House passed has permanent cuts for both groups. But the House bill doesn’t comply with the “Byrd rule” banning deficit increases after ten years in reconciliation bills; that rule is enforced only in the Senate. So this should be completely irrelevant as far as a senator is concerned.

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