- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

After initial success in cutting federal spending and reducing deficits, House Republicans have drifted into the red with a series of tax measures and spending bills that are not offset — either adding to the pile of debt or hiding the costs with accounting gimmicks.

More than a dozen bills with costs that are not fully offset elsewhere in the budget have passed the Republican-controlled House and threaten to add nearly $1 trillion to federal debt over the next decade.

The measures include a slew of tax breaks known as tax extenders. Among them are a $155 billion research and development tax credit, a $90 billion expansion of the child tax credit to higher-income families and a $2 billion enhanced tax deduction for businesses that make charitable food donations.

SEE ALSO: Obama casts GOP’s balanced-budget plan as ‘massive tax cuts’ for millionaires

Armed with a “Pledge to America,” Republicans won majority control of the House in 2010. The pledge spelled out the party’s governing principles and included a vow to “balance the budget and pay down the debt.”

To keep the promise, Republicans have demanded that spending increases, including for disaster relief and other crises, be funded or offset in the budget.

When Republicans dropped the pay-as-you-go rhetoric in favor of tax breaks and funding for programs they support, such as $6 billion to restore military pensions, Democrats accused Republicans of applying a double standard.

“Republicans hypocritically and unfairly refuse to offset any of their tax giveaways — yet they demand full offsets on key investments and priorities for the American people,” said an email from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, after Republicans recoiled from President Obama’s $3.7 billion request to help resolve the border crisis.

“This deficit busting and fiscally reckless move yet again proves who their allegiance is to: the wealthy and special interests, not the middle class or the most vulnerable in our society,” said the email.

Mrs. Pelosi made similar charges against House Republicans when they called for budget offsets for a Democrat-backed extension of long-term unemployment benefits that expired at the close of 2013. The $25 billion bill never made it to the House floor.

The House nevertheless passed more than $700 billion worth of tax extenders, and two other tax bills that will cost $100 billion are on deck for passage.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and member of the House Budget Committee, defended the tax breaks.

“I’m not going to apologize because Republicans believe in low taxes and less regulation. I think that’s why God made Republicans,” he said.

Mr. Cole said Republicans kept their promise to cut spending and reduce deficits and noted that deficits rose for four consecutive years while Democrats controlled the House.

“The deficit has gotten lower every year the Republicans have been in the majority since then. So the side that cares about the deficit and has made tough decisions is clearly our side,” he said.

House Republicans last week threw their support behind a $14 billion bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is partially offset by about $4 billion with a budget trick called pension smoothing, which trades a temporary boost in tax revenue for lower tax revenue in later years.

Pension smoothing allows companies to temporarily put less money into pension accounts resulting in higher profits and bigger tax bills for the companies. The Treasury ultimately collects less tax revenue when companies have to put more money into pension accounts to make up the difference.

The same accounting maneuver was used to help pay for a $10 billion bill to replenish the Highway Trust Fund through next May. The bill also was “paid for” with $3.5 billion from a one-year extension in 2024 of customs service user fees, but lawmakers allowed themselves to spend the money now and pay it back in 10 years.

The splash of red ink has raised eyebrows even among budget watchdog groups usually allied with Republicans.

“It is easy to talk about the importance of controlling the debt in the abstract as well as the need to offset costs of legislation proposed by others,” said Maya MacGuineas, CEO of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “The real test of fiscal responsibility is the willingness to make the tough choices to pay for your own priorities. If you believe a policy is worthwhile, you should be willing to pay for it.”

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