Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

The GOP’s tax charade

Magician show with dollars banknote. Isolated on black background
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Pity the poor congressional Republicans. After years of Pecksniffian posing as prudent pursers providently preoccupied with the next generation’s prospects, their pretense has been revealed for the poppycock it is.

Not only will their tax plan swell the mountain of debt we’re bequeathing to the next generation, as multiple analyses have shown, it will do so in order to deliver most of its benefits to today’s upper earners.

To pretend otherwise, Republicans find themselves forced to seek refuge in fiscal fantasy, artifice, and gimcrackery. For example, to make the Senate tax cuts look both appetizing and affordable, that chamber’s fiscal svengalis have written into their package individual rate reductions that offer modest and middle-class earners tax breaks up front, but then expire after 2025, even while corporate reductions remain permanent.

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Unless of course, as those crafty pols winkingly suggest, a future Congress decides to make the individual-rate cuts permanent. What, really, can you say to that — except that the putative regular-folk benefits resemble the ghostly figure poet Hughes Mearns described in “Antigonish”:

Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there . . .

When I came home last night at three,

The man was waiting there for me

But when I looked around the hall,

I couldn’t see him there at all!

Poetry not your thing? Well, then, think “Star Trek.” Remember the way Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Bones would, when trying to return to the Enterprise in the throes of a solar storm, shimmer into partial existence in the transporter room, only to fade away again just as they were materializing? That’s more or less the idea here.

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Fantasy is no problem for President Trump, of course. His entire presidential campaign took place in the realm of the make-believe, one where the only limits on a candidate’s promises were his own imagination and the distant boundaries of his supporters’ gullibility.

In real life, of course, little or nothing that Trump promised has come to pass, which has made the first year of unified Republican rule a dreary desert indeed. And now, with their president backing Alabama’s own Humbert Humbert for the US Senate, the GOP’s plight only threatens to grow more embarrassing. And so Republicans have doubled down on the idea of delivering corporate-and-upper-earner goodies through a tax cut ostensibly targeted to the middle class.

Problem: Poll after poll reveal that most voters have come to see the GOP tax package for what it is. So pronounced are doubts about it that a half-dozen Republican senators remain undecided about incurring substantial new public debt in that pursuit.

All this has put Republicans in an unfortunate position of becoming fiscal-analysis deniers. And so you regularly see GOP congressfolk rejecting the well-regarded reports of the Congressional Budget Office, even though it is now led by a director selected by Republicans. And finding new and wordy ways to traffic in that specious supply-side assertion that no longer quite dares speak its claim: Tax cuts pay for themselves.

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Here’s how Speaker Paul Ryan put it recently, in the face of several studies predicting increased red ink from the GOP packages: “We believe that when you look at other analysis, whether it’s going to be Treasury or the rest, that we’re right there in the sweet spot, with economic growth that gives us more revenue with where we need to be.”

Problem: Two well-regarded groups with dynamic scoring expertise disagree. The Penn Wharton Budget Model’s dynamic analysis and the Tax Foundation’s dynamic score both see increases in the national debt, ranging from $500 billion to $2 trillion over 10 years.

All of which voters should consider with the holiday season upon us — and America’s supposed governing party doing its best to peddle a pig in a poke as this year’s trendy Christmas present.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.