Email #315: “reducing debt”?

Although I disagree with you on many issues, I consider you an expert on the national debt, and I share your concern regarding its continuing increase. The Congressional Budget Office reported this month that the deficit now stands at $20.38 trillion, up from $19.95 trillion in January. That’s a rise of nearly a half trillion in just the first nine months of President Trump’s term.

But the President says the debt is actually decreasing. He said on Fox News last week:

“The country, we took it over in 20 trillion you know the last eight years they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion. Right? And yet we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months. In terms of value. So you can say in one sense, we are really increasing values and may be in a sense, we are reducing debt.”

So even though the debt increased by $420,000,000,000, the President says it decreased by $5,200,000,000 because of the stock market. He also says that $5.2 trillion is “possibly” the whole $10 trillion.

I’m no mathematician, but I think 5.2 is roughly half of 10. I’m also not an expert on the national debt like you. So could you please explain in what “sense” we are reducing debt? What “value” is the President referring to? Is there any way that the stock market, which reflects private investor wealth through the fluctuating prices of corporate stocks, affects the debt accrued by the federal government?

Also, does the President’s statement give you any insight into why Secretary Tillerson reportedly called him a “fucking moron”?

Email #314: “we’re being fiscally irresponsible”?

“What happened to him? He used to be the fiscal hawk.”

That’s what Republican Senator Corker said of your former House colleague, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. But Corker could have been talking about almost anyone in the GOP right now. After decades of a seemingly principled stance against deficit spending, many Republicans are suddenly abandoning that position in order to push through what apparently has always been more important to them: tax cuts.

Former fiscal hawk Rep. Womack said: “In order to make good on our campaign tax promise, there probably are going to be some sacrifices made from an ideological perspective.” Do you agree that abandoning your career-long opposition to deficit spending is a necessary “sacrifice”?

Some of your Republican colleagues are rationalizing it with predictions of extraordinary tax-cut-triggered economic growth, even though economists disagree. Senator Johnson said: “Just agree we’re going to lose money on a static scoring basis. I’m happy to live with a $2-3 trillion static loss.” Are you also “happy” with the national debt rising to $2-3 trillion?

At least some of your colleagues are resisting these optimistic predictions. Rep. Dent said: “I don’t want to be overly optimistic about how much growth will be generated.” And Senator Young said: “we can’t assume unreasonable rates of economic growth or we’re being fiscally irresponsible.”

But other former fiscal hawks now think fiscal irresponsibility is okay. Rep. Meadows said: “you have to mitigate the damage by being as aggressive as you can be on tax rates, which would lessen the damage of our lack of fiscal responsibility over time.” Do you also hope to lessen the damage of your lack of fiscal responsibility?

I wrote to you in September that your staff hasn’t updated the “Fiscal Responsibility” page of your website since President Trump took office. It still refers to Obama as our President. I guess you and your staff are too busy trying to pass deficit-expanding tax cuts to even pretend that you still care about your career-long commitment to eliminating the deficit?

Term limits and fiscal responsibility were your defining positions when you entered office a quarter century ago. What other core values are you willing to “sacrifice” next?

Email #296: “a positive step forward”?

You said on Wednesday: “The tax reform framework unveiled today is a positive step forward in getting tax reform signed into law that lowers rates for individuals and families and helps level the playing field for American businesses.”

While I appreciate your optimism, I’m confused by how the Trump tax plan contradicts your dedication to debt reduction. The Senate Budget Committee resolution would reduce tax revenue by a $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Outside budget watchdog groups estimate the actual revenue loss would be more than $2 trillion. Previous tax plans put forward by the Trump administration had projected costs of $3 trillion and even $7 trillion. Whatever the revenue loss, that’s money added directly to the national debt.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget: “The president and members of Congress have spent years warning of our large and growing national debt and have said their goal was to pursue tax reform that doesn’t make that debt worse. It is extremely disheartening that the Senate budget may be abandoning that commitment.”

According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation: “Irresponsible tax reform is counterproductive and anti-growth because increasing the national debt hurts the economy. Tax reform should grow the economy, not the debt. This proposal fails the test of fiscally responsible tax reform.”

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center: “We are running a debt of $20 trillion-plus. We have to remember that debt is a tax on future generations, and so we talk about the immediate benefits, but also we have to recognize — if this added to the debt significantly, we are simply transferring a tax to future generations.”

And you said yourself: “It is a simple concept — you can’t spend more than you take in.” And the Trump tax plan will take in trillions less.

But it seems you no longer care about debt reduction–or you only care about it when there’s a Democrat is in the White House.

According to the “Fiscal Responsibility” page of your website: “Today, the national debt has soared well past a staggering $19 trillion. Our national debt has doubled since this Administration was elected to office, as the national debt was $9 trillion in 2008.” President Trump has been in office nine months now, but when you say “this Administration” you mean President Obama. You then brag about two balanced budget amendments that you introduced in 2015, describing one in the present tense as if it were still under consideration. It’s not. You even reference the 112th Congress—which ended in 2013.

With a Republican in the White House, I would think you would be excited about your annual ritual call for a balanced budget amendment. Instead, you literally abandoned “Fiscal Responsibility.” Are you planning on updating the page before this Congress ends, or will you wait until there’s a Democrat in the White House again?

Meanwhile, how can you say the government is taking “a positive step forward” when that step is toward an even higher national debt? Reducing the national debt is the signature issue of your quarter-century career in Congress. If you are willing to abandon it, what if anything do you represent?

Email #285: “essentially, it’ll be brand-new”?

Because President Trump failed to express condolences about the devastating earthquake in Mexico earlier this month, Mexico rescinded its offer to aid U.S. victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The President later tweeted an excuse: “Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site.” But, as he demonstrated in his tweet, the President always has access to his Twitter account and could have expressed condolences at any time.

While Mexico always stated openly and directly that it would not fund the building of a border wall despite what the President promised throughout his campaign, the notion of a Mexico-financed wall has become that much more impossible. The President of Mexico told President Trump last month: “my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.” This once again nullified the President’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” call for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.”

Fortunately, even the President is setting aside such notions now. He said last week: “We’re working on a plan for DACA. The wall will come later.”

This is good news for you since you’ve been so opposed to expanding government spending. You said even before President Trump was elected:

“We are at a crossroads in America. We can make the tough choices and control spending, paving the way for a return to surpluses and ultimately paying down the national debt, or we can allow big spenders to lead us further down the road of chronic deficits and leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt that is not their own.”

The big spenders now are members of your own party who want Congress to expand the budget even further to include wall construction. As your fellow Virginian Rep. Brat said last week in response to the President: the wall was “what the whole election was about.” And that wall will add $25 million to the deficit—money that Mexico will never reimburse.

Given your career as a staunch deficit hawk, will you oppose any future calls for a deficit-expanding “Great Wall”?

Regardless, the President has already signalled how he intends to manuever out of his current predicament. He said last week: “Just so you understand, we’re renovating massive sections of the wall right now. And essentially, it’ll be brand-new and we’ll be able to use that.”

The President will declare that money already allocated and being spent on border maintainance fulfills his campaign promise to build a wall because it’s “essentially brand-new.” I predict that before the end of the year President Trump will say: “The wall is there. It’s there. It’s built. Look for yourself. I kept my promise. I said there would be a wall and there’s a wall.”

If this move to a moderate position works, he will placate both the left and right–including you by avoiding increased spending. But his opponents on both the far right and far left could still oppose him. Where will you stand?

Email #139: “ridiculous”?

Next Saturday is a huge day. It’s the deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown, and it marks President Trump’s 100th day in office. The two dates coincide because the Trump administration asked for a delay on passing a 2017 spending bill—even though the 2017 fiscal year officially began October 1. The President seems to be asking for an extension on his first 100 days too, now calling it a “ridiculous standard,” even though his campaign promoted the idea with a “contract” listing all the accomplishments he promised by April 29th.

The President’s most repeated and most popular campaign promise was to build a “Great Wall.” His “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” called for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.” Even polls in January showed only 19% of Americans believed him, but according to him: “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” Even Senate leader McConnell contradicted that claim.

The President also claimed it would cost far less than the widely estimated $25 million: “I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought, but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet. When I do, price will come WAY DOWN!” But General Kelly, President’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, says it will actually cost way more: “A physical barrier, in and of itself, will not do the job. If you were to build a wall from the pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, you’d still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, observation devices.” That means that cost isn’t just construction. A wall would also require additional sensors, cameras, and patrollers, which, on top of maintenance, would add continuing annual costs too.

I fear the President is so desperate for the appearance of accomplishment that Congress will use the budget deadline to try to push through a rushed and ill-advised spending bill that includes wall construction. That attempt will shut the government down as the GOP shut it down in 2013 and twice in 1996. Those times Congress had Clinton or Obama in the White House to rally against. This time Republicans control every branch of government, making it impossible to blame Democrats for another unpopular shutdown.

Other deficit hawks have signaled they will not support adding deficit-deepening wall construction in the next appropriations bill. You, however, said in January that you support the President’s “Great Wall” plan. If you still do, I hope you recognize how “ridiculous” it would be to attempt to enact it this of all weeks.

Please vote to maintain current spending levels in the continuing resolution that Congress must pass by Saturday.

Email #84, Subject: “fiscal sanity”?

You recently applauded the appointment of Mick Mulvaney as the President’s Budget Director, saying he would bring “fiscal sanity” to Washington. Mr. Mulvaney recently released a list of proposed funding cuts that include the top programs for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting. These are the same programs that you have been voting against since you took office in 1993. The argument hasn’t changed either. You and your GOP colleagues say we can’t afford them.

So let’s look at their annual budgets:

National Endowment for the Arts                           $148 million

National Endowment for the Humanities               $148 million

Corporation for Public Broadcasting                        $445 million

Together they total $741 million. While that is only a tiny fragment of the government’s $4 trillion annual budget, it is not illogical to argue that we need to trim pennies wherever we can.  But now look at the annual costs required by two of the President’s recent executive orders:

5,000 new Border Patrol agents                               $900 million

10,000 new immigration officers                             $3.9 billion

The first alone exceeds the proposed cuts by $159 million, which is more than either the NEA or NEH receives individually. The second costs more than five times the combined cuts, and yet you and your fellow GOP deficit hawks have endorsed this new spending. You have also agreed to move forward with construction of the “Great Wall” at a cost of $15-25 billion. Estimates for the President’s proposed transportation infrastructure spending range from $500 billion to $1 trillion, and his tax cuts will cost another estimated $1 trillion in annual revenue losses.

Check my math, but I believe that totals between $1.5 and 2.1 trillion. And that’s before the increase in military spending the President has also signaled. These figures are so high, cutting $741 million from the NEA, NEH, and CPB has no effect. Even rounding up to an even $1 billion (which in itself is more money than either the NEA or NEH receives individually), the cuts would offset the President’s increased spending by only $.001 trillion.

You told me in a letter last month: “Families all across our nation understand what it means to make tough decisions each day about what they can and cannot afford and government officials should be required to exercise similar restraint when spending the hard-earned dollars of our nation’s citizens.”

So where is your “restraint”?

What “tough decisions” are you making about what you “can and cannot afford”?

In what possible sense is this “fiscal sanity”?

Email #43, Subject: preventing the budget office from doing its job?

I’m reading the rules package you voted for on the first day of the new Congress.

  1. 25: “The Director of the Congressional Budget Office shall … prepare an estimate of whether a bill … would cause … a net increase in direct spending in excess of $5,000,000,000 in any of the 4 consecutive 10 fiscal year periods….”
  2. 26: “This subsection shall not apply to any bill or joint resolution, or amendment thereto or conference report thereon— (A) repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”

Does this mean that you don’t want the Budget Office to figure out how much repealing Obamacare is going to cost us? Isn’t that incredibly important information? The last estimate from 2015 was $353 billion. Why are stopping the CBO from doing its job? I thought you were a budget and deficit hawk. How could you vote yes to something that undermines one of your stated priorities? And after the public outcry over your attempt to alter the Ethics Office, your manipulation of the Budge Office only adds to the impression of incumbant corruption. If repealing Obamacare requires suppressing one of the underlying principles governing House procedures, maybe you shouldn’t be repealing it?

Chris Gavaler

Email #25, Subject: deficit shell game?

Tom Price’s “tax exemption” for the Empowering Patients First Act is a major tax increase in disguise. If its costs aren’t specifically tax-funded now, then they just get dropped into the deficit to be paid later. But paid how? By taxes. If you really think Obamacare “was not the right way to” reform health care, how is this better? At least Obamacare was honest. Solutions cost money. Call it an Obamacare “tax” or a “penalty,” but either way, Americans understand what is being required of them. The Empowering Patients First Act instead pretends there are no costs at all, and so actually increases the long-term costs by deferring reality till some unspecified future when the system is in even worse shape. This is not a “commonsense,” “bi-partisan” solution. This is a shell game.  You are a Congressional leader. We expect better of you. We expect you to deal with the real problem directly and openly and to give us more than short-term Orwellian names and a long-term health care catastrophe.

Chris Gavaler