Letters from the West

Deficit ‘hypocrites’? Idaho’s senators hold to belief that tax cut won’t balloon debt

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo (left) and Jim Risch, near the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo (left) and Jim Risch, near the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. AP file

Idaho’s Republican U.S. senators are betting their reputations as deficit hawks on the hope that tax cuts will trigger growth over the next decade and offset projections of at least $1 trillion in lost federal revenue.

“I support the Senate’s tax reform proposal because it will not add to our deficit and will put our nation on a path toward fiscal stability,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo in a statement issued late Thursday.

Critics such as Betty Richardson, a former Democratic candidate for Congress and U.S. attorney appointed by President Bill Clinton, are calling them “hypocrites” as the tax legislation moves forward in the Senate.

But Crapo and Sen. Jim Risch said they believe economic growth spurred by the bill will bring in more than enough revenue to make up for the added deficit.

The issue appeared like it could threaten the bill’s success Thursday, when a report by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the package would produce budget deficits totaling $1 trillion over the coming decade. That’s even after the economic growth Crapo and Risch are gambling on.

After a scramble overnight, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas — the chamber’s No. 2 GOP leader — said Friday morning the party had the 50 votes needed to pass the bill.

Shaped in the Senate Finance Committee — which includes Crapo — the bill was written so it could be approved by a simple majority with only Republican votes under a budget reconciliation process that would then continue next week.

Risch said he and Crapo continue to vote against legislation that increases the deficit and debt. He pointed to analyses of the conservative Tax Foundation and the University of Maryland’s Inforum, which say the tax bills would offset the cuts with economic growth that would raise more revenue.

“We believe the tax reform bill in its final form will reduce the debt and the deficit,” Risch said.

Back in Boise, Idaho House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding believes there isn’t a lot of room or the necessary workforce for the kind of growth Risch and Crapo are betting on, with the nation’s and Idaho’s economies already humming along the best they have been in 40 years.

“They’re basically willfully ignoring the economic facts,” Erpelding said of the U.S. senators.

His position is supported by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, whose latest analysis said the GOP tax cuts were unlikely to spur the growth Republicans predict, and wouldn’t pay for themselves even if they did.

Boise Mayor David Bieter, also a Democrat, wrote Risch on Wednesday to say he was “profoundly puzzled” why “one of the leading voices of concern over the federal budget deficit” was supporting the tax plan.

Bieter’s letter also highlighted analyses suggesting the tax reform effort would “hurt low- and middle-class Idahoans and Americans.”

“It is they who will bear the brunt of the tax increases in this legislation so that corporations and the wealthy can enjoy tax cuts,” Bieter wrote to Risch.

In 2010, President Obama appointed Crapo to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, called the Simpson-Bowles commission after its retired senator co-chairs Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat from North Carolina.

The bipartisan commission made recommendations to eliminate deficit spending and overhaul the tax code to enhance revenue. Unfortunately, the commission’s recommendations were shelved. Crapo argued then and now that tax reform could grow the economy and with cuts to entitlement programs, and could bring the budget back into the surplus it had when President Bill Clinton left office in 2001.

“The bill before the Senate will stimulate greater economic activity and investment and will reduce taxes at every income level, with the greatest cuts being made in the lower and middle-income brackets,” Crapo claimed. “The resulting increase in economic activity will significantly reduce the costs of implementing the measure.”

But Simpson and Bowles wrote in a widely published Thursday op-ed that the “debt-financed” tax bill will make it even harder to bring the deficit under control.

“Unfortunately, the tax plan under discussion in Congress ignores nearly all the hard choices we proposed — incorporating only the ‘goodies,’ ” they wrote. “It reads as if it were developed for a country whose debt problems have been solved, when in reality debt is the highest it has ever been other than around World War II.”

Crapo responded with a statement saying the commission members understood the Simpson-Bowles framework would need to go through debate and negotiations.

“Without that reality, which the current Senate bill is continuing to go through, no plan has much value,” Crapo said.

Risch told the Statesman in March 2016 that the nation was spending $3.8 trillion a year, $11 billion a day, $7 million a minute.

“The federal government doesn’t have $11 billion a day. It’s about a billion and a quarter short, every single day,” Risch said. “When I got there, the national debt was about $10 trillion. Today we are at about $19 trillion.”

Richardson said the new tax cuts favor “mega-corporations and the ultra rich,”

“Jim Risch has for years portrayed himself as some kind of fiscal champion, but his concern for the national debt has proven short-lived,” she said “He’s a self-serving hypocrite of the first order, and an embarrassment to our state.”

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

Statesman reporter Sven Berg and the Associated Press contributed.