Senate Republicans jointly agreed that the official score of their tax bill wasn’t credible, several senators said Friday, allowing them to move forward with the $1.4 trillion tax cut after a brief hang-up Thursday over how reduced tax revenues would increase the budget deficit and the debt.
On Thursday, the official congressional score of the bill found that it would add $1 trillion in new debt over 10 years, even accounting for the additional economic growth it would spur.
A drama then unfolded on the Senate floor when Tennessee Republican Bob Corker balked at voting to add that much to the federal debt. Before that score was released, he had been working to include a “debt trigger” in the bill that would automatically shrink the tax cuts if the deficit rose more than projected. After the relatively unfavorable score, he began lobbying his fellow Republicans to make those revenue increases bigger to make up the difference.
That’s where his conference left him. By Friday morning, Republicans were prepared to proceed without any trigger — and without Corker’s vote, if necessary.
“I always wanted to be able to have a safety net. If you’re going to walk across a highwire you may be skilled and you may be able to do it, but it sure is nice to have a net under you,” said James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the “deficit hawks” who’d previously worked toward the trigger with Corker. “We’re going to walk without the net at this point.”
Texas conservative Ted Cruz said Republicans debated Thursday whether to include any trigger or additional revenues in the bill, and that his view against doing so prevailed.
“The consensus was that we shouldn’t be raising taxes, and the Republican conference coalesced behind that position,” he told reporters at the Capitol Friday.
A key to that shift was a mutual dismissal of the official score, which was provided by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
“The JCT’s report was exceptionally shoddy and I don’t believe it’s credible,” said Cruz. “I care passionately about the debt.”
South Dakota’s Mike Rounds said that Republicans agreed among themselves that economic growth would be stronger than estimated by the group. “We just think they're way off,” he said.
“I’m very pessimistic on their score,” said Lankford, citing the assumptions made by the committee relating to the foreign investment in the U.S. that could be expected to be driven by the tax rate cuts in the bill.
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to hit” the higher rates of economic growth needed to offset the tax cuts, Lankford said.
The Joint Committee on Taxation is not the only group of economic modelers to find that the Senate bill wouldn't fully pay for itself. Outside estimates from the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center, two think tanks, also concluded that the tax overhaul would increase economic growth, but not enough to fully offset the tax cuts.
On Friday afternoon, as Republicans moved toward a final vote, Corker declined to say whether he’d support the bill or discuss its fiscal impact.
But he no longer had the backing of Lankford or Jeff Flake, another deficit hawk. Flake said Friday that he would vote for the bill after getting a concession that he said would eliminate a budget gimmick in the bill.