To borrow a phrase from Donald Trump, many people are saying the president may be out of touch with reality. Even in private, the president tells advisers and lawmakers delusional falsehoods. He claims he won a majority of women voters (he didn’t), insists Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake (it isn’t) and claims it wasn’t his voice on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape (it was, and he admitted it).
But the president isn’t the only one creating his own reality. In the debate over the GOP’s awful tax plan, Republicans have become specialists in delusion - both of voters and themselves.
Exaggerations in support of a policy aren’t new. But the GOP’s plan - which Republicans tout as a tax cut for the middle class - is so heavily weighted in favor of corporations and the wealthy that Republicans have taken misrepresentations to new heights.
“The tax cut, if anything, is probably targeted more toward the lower-middle class and the working class than it is the upper class,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told The Washington Post, though independent analyses show the opposite.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says it’s “about giving those families who are struggling peace of mind,” even though the Senate bill would cost 13 million people their health insurance.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., claimed Thursday night that Republicans would not cut Social Security or Medicare to replace the lost revenue. One day prior, he said less revenue would “mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., declared in October he would oppose any plan “adding one penny to the deficit”; now he is fine with a plan that will add $1 trillion in deficits over 10 years.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that Treasury staffers would release an analysis proving that the bill would pay for himself. A Treasury staffer told the New York Times that no such analysis exists.
In going to new lengths to delude voters, Republicans have begun deluding themselves. When Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn spoke at a forum with CEOs, the moderator asked the executives if their companies would invest money from the corporate tax cuts, as Republicans have predicted. According to The Post, “very few hands went up. Cohn looked surprised. ‘Why aren’t the other hands up?’ he said.”
The budget gimmick Republicans expected would bail them out failed them as well. After the Congressional Budget Office projected the bill would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, GOP politicians expected that “dynamic scoring” (which includes projected increased revenue from economic growth) of the bill would show a far smaller number. Instead, “dynamic scoring” found that the bill would add more than $1 trillion to the deficit, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. “Republicans seemed almost shocked,” reports The Post’s Heather Long, “by how little credit the report gave to the power of tax cuts to drive economic growth.”
Evidence that supply-side economics doesn’t work is also getting shoved down the memory hole. When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011, he conducted what he called a “real-time experiment” in supply-side economics. Brownback pushed through sharp cuts in corporate and income taxes, promising that the cuts would pay for themselves by boosting economic growth.
The reality in Kansas was far different: The state’s job growth is lower than the national average. Ratings agencies downgraded the state’s debt multiple times. School funding was slashed to levels so low that they violated the state constitution.
Yet on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Brownback still told reporters, “What we did actually worked.” He’s not the only one living in a different reality. Congressional Republicans show no sign that they learned anything from Kansas’ tax disaster (and a similar one in Louisiana).
This memory-holing has been taking place for years. In 2012, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, under pressure from GOP senators, withdrew a report showing no correlation between taxes on the rich and economic growth. Years of evidence have backed up that finding. At this point, the supply-side myth survives because of self-delusion.
Fittingly, this terrible bill’s passage was secured through Senate Republicans deluding one of their own. On Friday, Sen. Jeff Flake. R-Ariz., announced his support for the bill after GOP leaders promised they and the White House would “work with” Flake to codify “permanent protections” for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. If Flake actually believes Trump will make a deal on immigration - arguably Trump’s signature issue - with him after he publicly denounced the president, I have a bridge to sell him. Republicans will take Flake’s vote and double-cross him later.
It’s no accident then that Trump is so fond of alternative facts. His party has been making policy this way for years. The result is that the GOP will push whatever foolish ideas it wants, confident that its rosy predictions will come true. Unfortunately for the country, the real world doesn’t work that way.