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View from around the state: Predictions of higher federal debt are no joke

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, told a group in Madison this fall he would support a tax-overhaul bill “as long as it’s pro-growth and doesn’t increase the national debt.”

Well, so much for that.

Johnson voted for the Senate’s version of a sweeping tax bill last week that, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, would add $1 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade — even when projected economic growth from the bill’s tax cuts is factored in.

The Joint Committee on Taxation is the nonpartisan arm of Congress that analyzes tax policies and proposals. Its economists, lawyers and accountants have earned respect from both sides of the partisan divide over the years. In fact, Republicans changed the budget rules three years ago to require the agency to consider the economic effects of major legislation when predicting future revenue.

So that’s what this official scorekeeper of congressional tax proposals did. It estimated that lower rates and other tax benefits the bill delivers over the next decade would cost the Treasury about $1.4 trillion, plus higher interest payments for additional borrowing. The committee also calculated that those lower rates would generate greater economic growth, offsetting lost revenue by $458 billion.

After combining those figures, the economic analysts at the Joint Committee on Taxation arrived at their projection of about $1 trillion in additional debt overall.

Keep in mind that this extra borrowing would come on top of an additional $10 trillion that’s already expected to pile up under current law over the next decade. And all of that would be on top of the current total federal debt of about $20 trillion.

But Johnson doesn’t want to hear the nonpartisan agency’s numbers, now that he’s voted for the Senate tax overhaul, contradicting his earlier bottom line. Johnson dismissed the committee’s careful estimate as “a joke” last week. He even insulted the committee’s experts as living in a “fantasy world.”

That’s disappointing.

Johnson prides himself as a conservative. But betting on lower tax rates to bring in more money is risky, not fiscally conservative. Johnson should have followed the strong example of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a deficit hawk who supported a lot of the good things in the tax bill but wisely voted “no” because of needless debt.

— From the Wisconsin State Journal

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