The Republicans’ era of irrationality

J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Mitch McConnell spoke to reporters Tuesday following a closed-door strategy session on Capitol Hill.

By Globe Columnist 

HERE’S ALL the intellectual equipment one apparently needs to be a Republican policy maker in the Trump era: a willingness to wish away the best available analyses in favor of magical thinking.

We’re seeing that mindset on full display with the GOP’s tax cut package.

We previously witnessed it with their Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort.


And it’s the Republican Party’s basic approach on climate change.

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The original goal of the tax “reform” effort was revenue-neutral legislation. That is, a package that would change the way taxes were collected, but not the overall amount of revenue raised. What we got instead are House and Senate plans that try to give most taxpayers a break, but send most of the benefits to corporations and upper earners. Fiscal analysts and watchdogs have warned that the package would increase our already problematic national debt load.

Although it works for the GOP base, it’s obviously awkward optics to add $1 trillion or more in public debt to present upper earners and corporations with a lovely tax cut.

Yet Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation has predicted a deficit of that magnitude. The Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, pegged it at $1.4 trillion. Those are Congress’s own analytic arms, ones whose analyses Republicans have in the past cited as authoritative when pointing out revenue problems with Democratic plans.

Traditionally, the conservative rejoinder to unfavorable fiscal projections has been to insist that a dynamic analysis — that is, one that estimates the growth effects of tax cuts — would show something very different. But the Joint Committee on Taxation’s projection came from a dynamic scoring. Further, both the Tax Foundation and the Penn Wharton Budget Model have also done dynamic analyses of the Senate and House plans, none of which showed these tax cuts coming even close to paying for themselves. The most optimistic evidence was for $500 billion in new debt over a decade, the most pessimistic for another $2 trillion.


The GOP response? To belittle the analytic acumen of the messengers. As The New York Times reported this week, Republicans actually circulated talking points to help their members question the conclusions of both the Joint Committee on Taxation and the CBO.

Now, it’s certainly true that projecting the economic and revenue effects of tax changes is not a precise science. But there is no credible analysis that shows that these tax cuts will be self-financing. Yet here’s what Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said recently of the Senate bill: “I’m totally confident this is a revenue-neutral bill.”

Based on what?

“There is nothing out there that would provide an intellectual basis for that claim,” said Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, the well-known debt and deficit-monitoring group.

This is hardly an isolated incident, of course. When the CBO found that their various attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would leave millions without health insurance, the Republican response was to attack that estimating office, whose leader was selected by the Republicans themselves.

We see the same with global warming. Reputable Republicans — see John McCain, circa 2008 — once accepted the strong scientific consensus on man-made climate change.


No longer. Some deny it outright or say climate change is a natural occurrence. Still others grudgingly concede humans play some role, but note that, since that effect is impossible to pinpoint with absolute accuracy, nothing should be done.

That kind of thinking has allowed Trump to declare that he will take this country out of the Paris Agreement on climate. And it’s yet another reason that those who don’t dwell in the realm of magical thinking must face this grim reality: The party that now governs this nation has, quite literally, ushered in a new era.

The Era of Irrationality.

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